First Filipino Russian Order of Friendship
A woman who loves reading about Russia, Armi Lopez Garcia has been fascinated by the country’s rich history and culture since she was young. “I used to read books about them and I (discovered) that we have more similar values than differences. (For one), we are both practicing Christians,” she enthused. Her passion and enthusiasm to know more about Russia led her, without any second thoughts, to accept the Honorary Consul post offered to her in 2007. A native of Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, Madam Armi has been holding the post for 13 years in Cebu City and has jurisdiction over Cebu, Bohol, and Aklan. She is the founder and chairperson of the Philippines Russia Business Assembly Inc., an organization with 50 local and Russian businessmen who explore opportunities for both countries. Madam Armi related that people close to her have questioned her affinity to the country. “Why Russia?” to which she answers with conviction “Why not?” Her dedication to the country paid off when President Vladimir Putin bestowed on her the Russian Order of Friendship medal in a ceremony at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow in November 2019. The award is accorded to Russian and foreign nationals for special merit in strengthening peace, friendship, cooperation, and understanding between nations. She joins the ranks of Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad, and Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew. Introducing the Russian culture to Filipinos is no simple task. Filipino impression on Russians is offbeat. A mere mention of Russia elicits fear and awkwardness. “It dawned on me. I have to do something. (The) wrong perception…really hurts me when people think (negatively) about them,” she confided. “I have to bridge and strengthen the ties between Russia and our country,” she stressed. She launched “Meet Russia,” a running project that serves as the venue to discover culture and tradition to help dispel negative perceptions. “Film showing is one of our many activities. I also regularly conduct series of seminars on Russia’s culture and history and I invite people from various industries like tourism and education, including government personnel as audience,” she explained. She related that there was a time she invited a Russian chef to conduct a day-long culinary workshop in Boracay to teach local chefs in tourist areas frequented by Russians. The participants were so enthusiastic, and she managed to encourage local restaurateurs to include Russian characters on their menu and learn basic Russian greetings. More than the promotion of cultural awareness, Madam Armi expressed her hope that an active and strong tourism exchange will pave the way for better relations between Russia and the Philippines. She is coordinating with the Tourism Department to draw programs that would promote inbound and outbound traffic of tourists to and from Russia to the Philippines and vice versa. Relations between Russia and the Philippines took a turn under President Duterte’s administration and Madam Armi said “we are (now) at its peak.” “(With President Duterte´s two-time visit to the country), it only shows that the relations between our country and Russia is good,” she said. The Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev reported that “during the last two years, our countries concluded more documents on bilateral cooperation in different fields than the previous 40 years.” “Understanding each other’s culture, respect, and diplomacy, I am sure that our relations with Russia will be more fruitful and harmonious,” Madam Armi concluded.