Bringing Taiwan and the Philippines Closer Together Angelito Banayo, Head of Taipei’s Manila Economic and Cultural Office
Article｜Rick Charette Photos｜Bo Wei Chen
Political developments in the Philippines over the past four decades have often riveted the world’s attention, and Mr. Angelito Tan Banayo has been front and center. Not as a spectator, but as an influential behind-the-scenes figure, notable as a key team member for a number of the most powerful names in national politics, working with them toward achieving more representative and progressive government for the people, and toward overturning old ways.
Today he is, by choice, leading a “quieter” existence, living in Taipei and leading the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the Philippines Representative Office in Taiwan. His mission remains the same – bettering the lives of his fellow Filipinos by deepening the already friendly relationship between Taipei/Taiwan and the Philippines.
Banayo started his professional life as a businessman, heading several private corporations, meanwhile teaching Economics/Marketing at the collegiate level. His movement into the government/political realm came in the early 1980s; over the years, amongst his most well-known achievements has been service as the General Manager of the Philippines Tourism Authority, as advisor to President Joseph Estrada, and as officer in the presidential campaign of President Benigno Aquino III.
Path to Taipei
The change of occupation bringing him to Taipei came after assisting Rodrigo Duterte with his campaign communications and strategy in the latter’s successful 2015-2016 run for the presidency.
“This is actually my first foreign assignment,” he states. “Before this I had always been based in the Philippines. In various roles I’ve had to work with other countries, especially ASEAN, and developed good relationships. At my age now, I wanted something closer to being in the foreign service, and with the agreement of President Dutarte I chose to come to Taiwan. I was appointed in June 2016, and took up residence in November. Actually, I was the president’s very first appointee to the foreign service.” Beijing and other possibilities were discussed, but it was Taipei and Taiwan he wanted.
Impressions – Then and Now
“I love it here. I had been here several times previously, mostly as a delegate for conferences, most in Taipei. I’ve witnessed the progress. From 1987, when I first came here, the changes through the years have been quite dramatic.” He recalls how much of the Dunhua North Road area around today’s Sunworld Dynasty Hotel (台北王朝大酒店) (then called Asiaworld), at the time a key commercial district with much of the city’s east still remained undeveloped. This was also true of today’s sleekest commercial district, Xinyi District (信義區), just 30 years ago scrubland and small farm plots, today home to skyscrapers that are dramatic world-class architectural designs.
“The nice thing about Taipei is that despite the rapid urbanization, the city has maintained a very good balance in terms of parks, greenery, and other recreational spaces – unlike back home, where it is all concrete buildings and very few parks. Taipei and other Taiwan cities all seem to maintain that positive ratio between open spaces and urbanized build-up that I really admire.”
“I marvel at the country – it’s not just the technology, but the hard work and patience. Through the years products have been improved, whether agricultural or industrial, little by little with continuing innovations. And whatever the target is, the approach is scientific. This is something I’d like to help Filipinos to emulate, bringing Taiwan’s knowledge and approach to the Philippines.”
A favorite contrast example is the custard apple, in Taiwan called Buddha-head fruit. “Back home it is increasingly rare, ever smaller, with more seeds, a burden to eat. In Taiwan technology, hard work, and perseverance has created a large market for a delicious fruit large, sweet, and creamy.”
He also mentions discussions he had with a high-level businessman friend about how the local medical sector is world-class, the friend stated that in his experience, Taiwan has the second best health system behind Sweden’s.
“Living here, it’s so convenient to go to a park, to read a book or magazine or walk a bit. I also love heading up the trails on Elephant Mountain (象山)* every so often, for exercise. I missed this in Manila; there, you have to head out to the provinces. In my free time, normally I take long walks, or go jogging or brisk-walking. I live in Xinyi District, which has so many parks – that’s why I enjoy Taiwan. Unlike in the Philippines, even between areas of tall buildings you have pocket parks. The balance is quite good. You can’t argue with the success of Taiwan. Wherever you go, it is in evidence.”
How Filipino Travelers See Taiwan
“Filipinos are attracted to Taipei and Taiwan for a number of key reasons. One – they’re tired of Hong Kong. HK and Taipei are about equidistant, and Filipinos, especially the upwardly mobile and middle-class, visit HK frequently. I tell Philippine newspapers, ‘Try Taipei/Taiwan. The food is as good, and the shopping is cheaper.’ Filipinos love to shop – we perhaps learned our consumerism from the Americans. There are good bargains here, in the night markets and even the outlet stores. We promote this on our website.”
The Taipei/Taiwan Tourism Experience – Adding Value
“In fact, basically, you cannot really add much more to what you already have in Taipei. More mature people like myself love the parks, and the greenery, but most Filipinos will probably be looking for something for the kids. When you bring your family here, I find there’s a lot for the adults – the excellent museums, parks, etc. – but for the kids, other than the zoo, there needs to be something like an interactive-type entertainment city, etc. Perhaps this would generate more tourism.
“Another thing, in Taipei and elsewhere, is to consider having street signage with larger English types. For those self-driving, it’s difficult to get by if you don’t understand Chinese characters. The translations on the bottom are quite small; especially at night, it’s hardly readable. It would be doing tourists a service to have bigger signage in English. A small thing, but it matters.”
When in Taipei - The Banayo Mission
“Our two countries are very close. It takes just 1 hour and 45 minutes to fly from Manila to Taoyuan. And it will be even shorter now we've opened a new northern Philippines airport in Cagayan Province. But despite the physical proximity, Taiwanese and Filipinos don’t know each other well. I’d like to promote this, especially through cultural and educational exchanges. The core has long been trade and commerce, but by fostering warmer people-to-people relationships, this foundation will be deepened and strengthened.” Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy and visa-free access for Filipinos and nationals from other ASEAN lands are very welcome, he says – Taiwan’s “bonds of friendship with ASEAN nations will be strengthened, providing a blanket of security.”
Elephant Mountain is one of four low peaks that make up popular Sishoushan/Four Beasts Mountain (四獸山). Xinyi’s south-side backdrop, the area is laced with easy to mid-grade trails, with splendid views over the city.