"Being part of this delegation allowed me to see how alive the liberal ideology is. Liberalism transcends borders and this international work tells us that we can build something bigger, because of our common goal of better governance that creates freedom and opportunities for all," said 6th District of Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte.
Belmonte was part of the Philippine Delegation to Brussels on Belgium on March 23-26, 2015, along with Rep. Dina Abad (Lone District, Batanes), Rep. Malou Acosta-Alba (First District, Bukidnon), Rep. Kaka Bag-ao (Lone District, Dinagat Islands), Asec. Mikael Co (Presidential Communications Development & Strategic Planning Office), Stephen Cruz (Liberal Party) and Adrian Martinez (Kabataang Liberal), with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) Philippines Country Director Jules Maaten and FNF Philippines Project Manager Minnie Salao.
The Delegation's visit centered on party structures and voter communication. FNF Director for European and Transatlantic Dialogue Hans Stein presented the new strategy of Germany Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP). FDP lost all its seats in the parliament when it did not meet the 5% threshold in the federal elections in 2013. "FDP's setback became an opening for a new start and to find new chances. Now the people are missing the liberal voice in the parliament, and the FDP's mission is clear: Let's give people the self-confidence to take matters into their own hands," said Stein. FDP recently effectively won in the state elections in Hamburg with 7.4%.
"It is not only about the political gains, but we build our party as a dynamic entity, using our principles as our basis for unity," responded Belmonte.
The group met with Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Hans van Baalen at the European Parliament. Van Baalen is a member of the Dutch liberal party VVD, which is also the party of current Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. "People will always blame you when you are in government. They don't look at your achievements, but your shortcomings. This is why your campaign should not only rest on the laurels of the past," advised Van Baalen.
"You can have the brightest idea, but that won't be recognized much if you don't have a platform where you can operate. This is why we need to win elections, and similarly why we need allies to push for our reforms like we do in ALDE," shared Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Campaign and Capacity Building Manager Joakim Frantz.
The group also learned about e-governance, which the liberal Estonian Reform Party has successfully carried out to combat corruption and to engage more people in political affairs. Estonia is the only country where citizens can vote online. When asked about how digital technology is used by the public to access information in relation to the Freedom of Information bill that is pending in the Philippine Congress, Urmas Paet MEP confidently said that Estonia releases documents upon request within five days. "We show that we are a government that is transparent and that we are a party that opens opportunities to everybody. This has been our track record. Our party's history has a positive connotation to the credibility of the party," shared Paet.
"Meeting our counterparts in Europe gave me a sense of belonging and made me more proud as a liberal," expressed Bag-ao.
The Philippine-Europe trade relations were also discussed with European Union (EU) Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström. The Philippines was recently granted a Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status by the European Commission. This means that there is zero tariff or a duty free entry of Philippine exports to the EU. The Philippines is the only country in the ASEAN that has a GSP+ status. "Trade is important not only for the recovery of the EU, but also to promote certain values and standards, which are our political aim," said Malmström.
"We see the GSP+ as an opportunity to level up our capabilities and push for reforms. The benefits of trade are not only physical but also the development of political structures," replied Abad.
The Delegation also met with the Filipino community in Belgium-Luxembourg. A dinner reception was hosted by Philippine Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg and Head of the Philippine Mission to the European Union Victoria Bataclan.
"The liberal community doesn't only talk about solidarity but also makes sure that it is institutionalized. Organizations like ALDE, Liberal International (LI), and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) are proof, and meetings like this are the first step to building partnerships," said Maaten. "This is also how we find out that the core issues in different countries don't differ much. When we campaign, we should talk about real questions that are close to the needs of the people, and together, liberals will find the answer," added Maaten.