BANGKOK, Thailand–Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Enrique Manalo praised the completed ASEAN visits of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte by emphasizing the importance of agreements between countries, including a framework on code of conduct, to promote cooperation, stability, and sustainability during a press briefing held Wednesday at the Mandarin Oriental.
“The purpose of the Code is to see how we can manage disputes carefully, not to raise tensions, not to escalate tensions,” Manalo said.
The details of the framework will be under continuing negotiations and discussions, to be based on the “key principles of mutual respect and mutual benefit.”
Manalo summarized the positive results of President Duterte’s official visits to Myanmar and Thailand, which caps the ASEAN-wide introductory visits he has made since assuming office in July 2016.
Joining Manalo in the panel were Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo, Executive Director Arnel del Barrio of the Philippine Carabao Center of the Department of Agriculture, Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar who led the briefing.
The meetings in Myanmar with President U Htin Kyaw and other officials such as State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said Manalo, “reaffirmed the friendship and excellent relations” between the two countries, spanning six decades.
In Bangkok, President Duterte issued a joint statement with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, recognizing “the synergy to further deepen and expand cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to work together to strengthen the ASEAN Community.”
Common areas of cooperation identified with the two countries are on trade, tourism, agriculture, defense and security, intelligence, science and technology, cultural exchange, education, energy, and humanitarian assistance and development cooperation programs
On a more specific note, Del Barrio shared that the Philippines and Thailand reached an understanding “to establish and promote cooperation and exchange in the areas of swamp and dairy buffalo.” The cooperation gives a boost to researchers and scientists to expand collaborative opportunities to exchange knowledge and techniques that will mutually benefit both agricultural countries.
Teo, meanwhile, is eyeing to improve the marketing and promotion of the Philippines in relation to Thailand.
“I would like to see more Thai people coming to the Philippines,” the Tourism Secretary said. Thailand has promised to start flying its airline to Cebu and Davao and back to Bangkok.
Trade Secretary Lopez shared the good news that Thailand made a commitment “to help us balance the trade” between Thailand and the Philippines. Currently, Thailand is the country’s sixth largest trading partner.
“But they have a trade surplus. In other words, mas malaki po ang export nila sa atin, kaysa ‘yung export natin sa kanila,” Lopez explained to illustrate the need to balance trade between economies.
Myanmar hosts some 800 Filipinos as overseas workers. Thailand has more than 14,000 Filipinos, with a number working as English teachers, engineers, and other professionals.
In Myanmar, President Duterte extended a pledge worth USD 300,000 to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as humanitarian assistance to Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary confirmed.
Asked about whether the Philippines is going to file a protest against China on its planned construction of an environmental monitoring station, Manalo said that the Philippines is seeking clarification with China, but at the same time is “maintaining a regular close watch over Scarborough Shoal.”
Cayetano explained the diplomatic stance of the President who in a statement expressed cognizance that “the respect for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in the interest of all countries within and outside the region.”
Both Myanmar and Thailand reiterated full confidence and support to the Philippines as host of the ASEAN Summit this year.
Manalo is aware that the negotiations among the countries may not be always easy, considering the differences in each country’s background, history, and present needs.
“But I think with enough will, I think we can move forward,” he said.