05 May 2015 – Philippine Ambassador to Switzerland Leslie J. Baja conducted a cantonal visit to Graubünden on April 29. The official visit is one of the regular activities that the Embassy conducts to promote awareness of the Philippines and the country’s profile among the Swiss people, particularly government officials and the business community.
Ambassador Baja met with Mr. Martin Jäger, President of the Canton of Graubünden, and Dr. Claudio Riesen, Head of the State Chancellery. He was accompanied by Minister Maria Theresa S.M. Lazaro and Attaché Harley A. Tesorero.
In his welcome remarks, Mr. Jäger alluded to the similarities between Graubünden and the Philippines, particularly the values that both embrace and uphold. He said that like Filipinos, the people of Graubünden are also God-fearing and closely-knit people. He went on to give a brief introduction of the canton’s politics and economy. He also commended the Filipino residents in the canton for their warmth and for being able to fully integrate into their society.
Ambassador Baja thanked the officials for their warm welcome. He explained that the visit was part of the Embassy’s desire to strengthen its relations with cantonal governments in Switzerland. “We hope that through our cantonal visits, we could further solidify our bond with Switzerland at the local level and explore potentials for future cooperation on a localized presence,” the ambassador said.
He added, “Graubünden has been an important part of our economic diplomacy activities, especially as it is home to Davos, where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is held, an event which three of our presidents so far have attended.”
Ambassador Baja briefed the cantonal officials on the status of Philippine-Swiss relations, in particular, the ongoing negotiations on the free trade agreement between the Philippines and the EFTA countries, which the two parties hope to conclude by 2016. He made a parallelism between EFTA, of which Switzerland is a member, and ASEAN, to which the Philippines belongs. He commented that while EFTA’s strength lies in its great purchasing power, ASEAN’s potential is its being a market of close to 600 million people with a fast-growing middle class and strong tradition of consumerism.
After the meeting with cantonal officials, Ambassador Baja met with the Filipino community in Graubünden, during which time the Embassy also conducted registration for overseas voting.
Graubünden is home to around 200 Filipinos, most of whom are either permanent residents or have already acquired Swiss citizenship by marriage. During the meeting, the Ambassador briefed them on the current events in the Philippines and the programs and projects of the Embassy. The Filipinos in Graubünden, headed by Mrs. Adora Fischer, expressed appreciation to the Embassy team for visiting them in Chur, the capital of Graubünden, which is a three-hour drive from Berne.
The canton has a population of around 200,000and holds two national records: being the largest canton in Switzerland with its total land area of 7,106 square kilometers, and as the most sparsely populated canton in the country with only approximately 26 inhabitants per square-kilometer. It has gained the reputation of being the number one winter holiday destination in Switzerland. St. Moritz in the Engadine valley of the canton is a famous playground of the richest people in the world. END