Talking about economy, calamities and human rights (Business Mirror (Philippines))

FROM the 25th floor of his office in Makati City, German Embassy Charge d’Affaires Michael Hasper used to have a very good view of the city skyline.

Hasper arrived in the country in July 2013, and from that time on he has seen how the landscape outside has changed dramatically, with buildings being built one after the other.

I expect that golf driving range to be gone sometime soon, Hasper said, while pointing to the right side of his office, the only area that is still not obstructed by any construction.

He acknowledged the country’s property-sector boom is a byproduct of the robust economic growth the country has been experiencing over the past several years.

The need to adapt

When Hasper first arrived in the country two years ago, the situation at the airport did not shock him at all.

You know a developing country when you see one. Investments will happen. I was excited to be back in Southeast Asia, Hasper said, adding that Cebu at the time looked very much like Bangalore, as he recalled his time as a consul in India, when the boom in Indo-German business activities started.

It had the same vibrancy, Hasper noted, and then quickly added how road traffic there has slowed considerably because, as he reasoned, the streets were not ready for rapid development. It is the same situation other urban cities in the country has been experiencing.

Hasper said the Philippines has to adapt as its economy continues to grow. He cited Thailand as an example of a country that invested heavily on infrastructure to decongest city traffic.

Hasper spent three years in Thailand as the head of Germany’s political department in its Bangkok embassy.

Outside of infrastructure concerns, Hasper said they could not be happier with how bilateral trade between the Philippines and Germany has been progressing.

Trade has been a success story. We have a successful partnership and we are expecting higher figures this year, Hasper said.

He added: There are also more interests in investments. German companies are coming. They have seen success stories in the country.

Philippine-German trade reached $5.24 billion in 2014, with the Philippines enjoying a trade surplus, as it exported $3 billion last year. For the first quarter of the year, two-way trade has already reached $1.57 billion.

Still, Hasper said the Philippine government still wants to see the 60-40 percent ownership provision in the Constitution completely scrapped, while adding that a more liberalized economy should be installed.

He said the Philippines have a lot going for, including the labor skills present, ease in communication and the prevailing wage levels.

A witness to a tsunami

and a super typhoon

In the last year of his Thailand tour of duty, a day after Christmas, the country was devastated by a tsunami that killed 4,812 individuals, including 500 Germans who were on vacation.

Hasper described that part of his career as emotionally draining, with heartbreaking stories all around.

There was no Christmas and New Year for us. The toughest for us in the embassy was the first two days. We organized a crisis management [team] and made sure the embassy was accessible, Hasper said.

Hasper said he was constantly on the telephone during the first 36 hours after the tsunami hit Thailand. He said they were helping with the injured and locating those who were missing.

Hasper told of a story of a husband speaking to him on the phone and telling him that his wife, who is beside him, was already dead.

The human suffering. It was tough, Hasper said.

He added that the German Embassy went from hospital to hospital, and it took them half the year to find and deal with the dead Germans.

All throughout the ordeal, Hasper said the Thai government dealt with the crisis the right way, while their citizens were completely supportive of foreigners in their country.

We were guests in their country and they felt like they were losing their face because of the tragedy, Hasper said.

In November 2013, during Hasper’s first year in the country, he again experienced another catastrophic calamity as Supertyphoon Yolanda devastated central Philippines.

Hasper said that even when there were no German casualty during that time, his country immediately poured in €176 million to the provinces hit by the typhoon, including relief goods, relief infrastructure, medical services and psychological support.

The €144 million came from civil-society groups in Germany. It was a massive support, Hasper said.

Hasper added that they very much appreciate the Philippine government’s flexibility during the early days in the aftermath of the typhoon.

International help came fast because of the visa customs clearance provided by the government. It was not normal. The Philippines welcomed humanitarian assistance, Hasper said.

In his assessment, both Thailand and the Philippines handled the natural disasters that struck them excellently.

Human rights

Hasper, who has master’s degree in History, assumed his first diplomatic posting as a German government desk officer on human rights during the height of racism in his country.

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall had ramifications for Germany, as it was flooded with asylum seekers from borders that were suddenly open.

There was intolerance toward asylum seekers but it was politically and publicly discussed. Germany is a democratic multicultural country, Hasper said.

It was the start of his involvement in human rights, which had its high when Hasper was a member of the policy planning staff of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin from 2010 to 2013.

During that time, he handled strategic communication and public-relation events. This culminated with his key role in the campaign to create the human-rights logo in 2011.

During the three-month search, more than 15,000 entries were submitted from 190 countries. Eventually, Serbia’s Predrag Stakic’s design of combining the shape of a hand and a bird was chosen as the symbol of human rights.

Among the distinguished panel of judges included human-rights advocates Aung San Suu Kyi, Ai Weiwei, Muhammad Yunus, Michael Gorbatchev and Jimmy Carter.

The design was unveiled in New York and is now available online to everyone for free.

His career so far

Hasper’s career, which is on its 23rd year, had him being posted in India, Thailand and, currently, here in the Philippines.

Aside from the three countries, he was also a former deputy head of the Public Relations Division of the Foreign Office, personal assistant to the coordinator for German-French Relations of the Foreign Office and desk officer of the North America and Transatlantic Relations Desk.

It is a successful career path that started after Hasper took the obligatory German examination for those who aspire for diplomatic postings. In his batch, thousands took the exam and he was only one of 40 individuals that were eventually accepted.