The ambassadors of Sweden and Finland both share a common love for the Philippines, but for different reasons. As of 12th in a series, Lifestyle Inquirer magazine highlights the different connections the ambassadors have to the Philippines.
Harald Fries, Ambassador of Sweden in the Philippines
Harald Fries, Ambassador of Sweden in the Philippines is no stranger to the country and he first visited the Philippines in 1985 with his then-girlfriend, later wife, Susan Batungbacal. The couple met in Stockholm where they both worked for the Swedish telecoms company Ericsson and have since visited the Philippines every year. Harald Fries first diplomatic posting was in Manila from 1991 to 1995 and he says to Lifestyle Inquirer, “You can imagine how delighted my wife and I were when I was offered my second posting to the Philippines. A dream come true,”.
The Ambassador’s main task upon arriving in the Philippines this time was to reopen the Embassy of Sweden in Manila that had been closed since 2008 and to promote trade and investment exchange between Sweden and the Philippines. Since then, Harald Fries reports that trade has increased significantly and the embassy looks forward to the opening of Swedish Ikea’s first store in the Philippines later this year which will be the biggest Ikea store in the world. The Philippines also reopened its embassy in Stockholm this year and according to Harald Fries, “Is a very welcome development. With embassies firmly in place in each other’s capital, we can do much more to further strengthen the relations between our two countries.”
Juha Pyykkö, Ambassador to Finland in the Philippines
In September last year, Finland also reopened its embassy in Manila and Ambassador Juha Pyykkö feels lucky to be the first Finnish ambassador there since the opening. The Ambassador arrived in Manila in November as no newcomer to Asia with previous postings including Bangkok, Canberra, and New Deli. This year he will be joined by his family including his wife Riitta Laakso and their sons Emil and Pepe. Ester their eldest will continue her studies in London. Before coming to Manila, Juha Pyykkö served as an envoy in Athens covering both Greece and Albania.
To Lifestyle Inquirer, the Ambassador shares that the story of Armi Kuusela and Gil Hilario is still well known in Finland, referring to the Miss Universe 1952 who married a Filipino. The Ambassador’s late father attended the same school as the Finnish beauty queen in the 1940s, and stories from those days are still fresh in his mind. “This feels like continuing the Finnish-Filipino story I had heard from my father in my childhood,” Juha Pyykkö says.
According to the ambassador, there are three main grounds for Finland to reestablish its official presence in the Philippines which includes untapped business opportunities, strengthened consular and immigration services, and a foreign and security policy analysis in this geopolitical and geo-economically important and interesting region. Due to the pandemic, Juha Pyykkö has not been able to explore the Philippines as much but he says to Lifestyle Inquirer that it was gratifying to experience the pre-Christmas season in Manila.