MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte returned to the country on Thursday, March 23, after his successful back-to-back official visits to Myanmar and Thailand where the Chief Executive spoke with his counterparts on efforts to reinvigorate the Philippines’ trade and security relations with the two Southeast Asian nations.
In his speech upon his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, Duterte said the visits have brought “a renewed sense of optimism for the future of our relations with two of our important friends in the region and our brothers in ASEAN”.
Duterte said in both visits, the South China Sea issue was discussed. “We stressed the need to maintain peace and stability in the region. We underscored respect for freedom of navigation and overflight rights in the interest of all countries [within] and outside the region,” he said.
“We emphasized the need for the full [and] effective implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and expressed determination to complete the Framework of the Code of Conduct in 2017,” he explained.
Duterte said he had fruitful and productive discussions with Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw on expanding bilateral cooperation, intensifying two-way trade and investments and sustaining growth for the two countries.
“With many growing Philippine companies seeking new markets in our region and in Myanmar, I emphasized the value of economic partnerships between the private sectors in ASEAN countries,” he said.
Also tackled was the need for law enforcement collaboration to address terrorism, extremism, piracy and drug trafficking.
Duterte added that both sides recognized the importance of food security which led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Food Security and Agricultural Cooperation.
President Duterte also met with First State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing where he expressed support for the reform movement in Myanmar and underscored the importance of further strengthening defense and security ties.
In Thailand, warm and open discussions were held between Duterte and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as the two identified areas of excellent ties between the Philippines and Thailand.
“Among many areas, we agreed to expand cooperation to address security which is really the common concern of everybody in this region: it’s terrorism, extremism and they also have a very serious problem about drugs. We affirmed the intensified collaboration in the areas of military, trade and investment, tourism, agriculture, science and technology, energy, education, among others,” said Duterte.
They also witnessed the signing of three important documents: the Agreement in the Field of Science and Technology, Implementing Agreement on Specific Areas of Cooperation on Swamp and Dairy Buffalo Production, and the Implementing Program on Tourism Cooperation in 2017-2022.
The President also met with several business leaders in Thailand, bringing home USD 2 billion of investments from Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group officials alone who agreed to expand business in the country within the next five years.
Myanmar and Thailand are the last two countries the President must visit before the country’s hosting of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit this year.
He emphasized the importance of working closely with ASEAN neighbors and other countries in the Asia Pacific region, saying that the benefits gained from such cooperation should be felt by ordinary people and not just the elites.
“We want an ASEAN that is for the people — a truly people-oriented and people-centered community,” he said.
On peace talks and trade
Speaking to reporters upon his arrival, the President said his administration remains committed to forging peace with rebels but with a number of conditions for talks to proceed.
He also cited the gains made on trade particularly in the purchase of Philippine produce like bananas following the warming relations with China, the President said he believes that China has a “word of honor” and values its friendship with the Philippines.
Duterte reiterated the country’s response to the situation needs to be more measured to prevent undue developments involving global superpowers. From the airport, Duterte proceeded to Funeraria Paz in Sucat, Parañaque to pay his last respects to the late Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, sister of former President Fidel Ramos.
Shahani, who was a notable women’s rights advocate, passed away last Monday after years of battling cancer. She was 87.