HANOI, Vietnam – President Benigno S. Aquino III is not fond of traveling, but he may need to do it more now because of the invitations for state visits from his counterparts and to better convince them “to take a more serious look” at investing in the Philippines.
Aquino was set to return to Manila early last night from Ho Chi Minh City, which is his final stop in Vietnam to pay a courtesy call on Secretary General Nong Duc Manh of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
The President said after the closing ceremonies of the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit here last Saturday that he has been invited by his counterparts to visit their respective countries.
Among them were Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Thailand Prime Minister Vejjajiva Abhisit, and Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein.
The President said that while the idea of visiting their countries and getting to know more of their culture is enticing, he has yet to commit to these invitations.
In the same token, Aquino invited his counterparts to visit the Philippines.
He invited Brunei Darrusalam Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of this host country particularly to the public-private partnership program (PPP) conference in Manila on November 18 and 19 this year.
The President is also set to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Yokohama in mid-November. He also has plans to visit Indonesia and China.
Apart from pushing the interests of the Philippines during his series of bilateral meetings at the sidelines of the summits here last October 28 to 30, Aquino who is just on his fourth month in office was able to introduce himself as the Philippines’ new leader.
Although a highly-anticipated bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao did not push through “due to time constraints,” Aquino was able to meet with his counterparts in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.
The meetings were “friendly and cordial,” said Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Secretary Ramon Carandang as Aquino also aimed to use them as venue to introduce himself to his counterparts and get to know them better.
Carandang said some leaders already knew Aquino as they had already known his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, an icon of democracy in Asia.
At the same time, the President was also able to push for the interests of the Philippines.
In his speech for the 13th ASEAN-China Summit last Friday, the President proudly informed his counterparts of the good developments in the Philippines despite the recent global financial crunch.
“I am glad to inform you that despite the global economic slowdown, the Philippine economy has continued to grow. For the first six months of this year GDP grew by a record 7.9 percent, my country’s highest in over three decades,” Aquino said.
“My government is putting in place measures to ensure that economic growth becomes more equitable and reforms to further enhance the domestic climate for investors. I invite you to take a more serious look at opportunities to invest in my country.”
Most notable of his bilateral meetings were with Brunei, Thailand, Japan, Korea as well as Myanmar.
Aquino was able to propose to the Brunei leader to make Mindanao as its “Halal Food Production Center” with the latter expressing openness for such proposal.
Aquino and the Thailand Prime Minister, during their meeting last Thursday, agreed for more cooperation among their governments in dealing with common problems such as the effects of their strengthening currencies against the United States’ dollar.
In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Aquino was able to obtain P21.4-billion in official development assistance (ODA) from the Japanese government for the improvement and maintenance of Philippine roads. In the same meeting he also asked the Japanese government to ease the requirements for Filipino nurses applying for work in Japan.
Meanwhile in his talks with the Myanmar Prime Minister, Aquino was able to express his stand on the upcoming elections in the military junta-ruled Myanmar and the continued detention of its opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“President Aquino expressed the willingness of the Philippines to share the Philippine experience in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. He cited our history where in the 1980s, we made a successful transition that was relatively violence free. He said that if the Myanmar government wishes to learn from our experience then we will be very happy to share our experiences with them,” Carandang said.
The President also joined calls of the international community for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi but it was turned down by the Myanmar leader.
Aquino, who wrapped up his six-day visit in Vietnam, was expected to return to Manila at 7 p.m. Sunday.
It was the President’s second overseas journey which cost around P11 million of taxpayers’ money.
Palace officials however could not yet confirm if the President will pay his respects to his deceased parents on November 1 or November 2. November 1, All Saints’ Day, is a holiday while November 2, All Souls’ Day, remains a working day.
“Don’t think so. No plans yet firmed up by the family. They will wait until he comes back,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a text message when asked if the President will visit the tomb of his parents on November 1.
In Vietnam, the President witnessed the signing of four agreements on defense and education, oil spill preparedness and search and rescue at sea designed to boost cooperation between the two countries.
DISASTER MITIGATION COOPERATION PUSHED
Recalling “Katring,” the powerful typhoon that ravaged Northern Luzon two weeks ago, and the strong earthquake and “tsunami” that hit in Indonesia, Aquino III alerted world leaders to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change.
He urged Australia, China, and other neighboring countries to do their part in developing disaster management mechanisms.
“In the area of disaster risk management, Australia has been active in developing disaster early warning systems in our part of the world. The urgent need to link disaster management mechanisms within ASEAN and the region is highlighted by the recent calamities that have adversely affected many countries, most notably Indonesia. With this in mind, I invite Australia to undertake enhanced cooperation with the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM),” he appealed during the 1st ASEAN-Australia Summit last Saturday.
JC Bello Ruiz, Manila Bulletin