MANILA (UPDATE) - President Benigno Aquino on Thursday proposed a defense dialogue with his visiting Singaporean counterpart, Tony Tan Keng Yam, amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino said he and Tan discussed the two countries defense and security cooperation, which includes high-level training, educational, and intelligence exchanges.
"The Philippines proposed the holding of a Defense Dialogue in order to further strengthen our cooperation. We also welcomed the opportunity to host this year’s Asian Defense and Security exhibition on July 16-18, 2014. I believe that strengthening defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and Singapore is key to maintaining regional stability," he said.
"We also discussed the revival of the Philippines-Singapore Action Plan, as a mechanism for expanding bilateral discussions between our countries. The Action Plan provides a consolidated framework for strengthening our bilateral cooperation, covering expansive areas including trade and investments, information technology, education, culture, defense, and people-to-people exchanges. I look forward to the implementation of initiatives in these areas, knowing that it will have a positive impact on relations between the Philippines and Singapore," he added.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma later clarified that the West Philippine Sea was not covered by the discussions.
“According to the DND [Department of National Defense], the Philippines regularly conducts defense dialogues with allied states, such as Singapore and other ASEAN member countries, to discuss defense and security concerns. Such dialogues may include, among others, the following: a) review of the status of defense relations; b) exchange of views and insights on security issues; and c) building support for Philippine positions,” he said.
Aquino and Tan gave joint statements in Malacanang.
Tan thanked the Philippines for its hospitality in his first state visit to the country.
He said it's not his first time in Manila.
Tan also lauded Aquino for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last week.
Tan said he and Aquino also discussed ASEAN developments.
"As founding members of ASEAN, Singapore and the Philippines share a common vision of building a strong, united, and stable ASEAN community. And we will continue to work closely to promote the common interest of our region. President Aquino and I agreed that the Philippines-Singapore bilateral ties are extensive and growing from strength to strength. Our bilateral relations are underpinned by strong people-to-people ties,” he said.
Tan noted the resilience of Filipinos in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
Tan is set to hand over a check of donations to Philippine partners for the victims of Yolanda on Friday.
“Given our close ties, Singapore also shares your grief when typhoon 'Yolanda' or 'Haiyan' struck last November. Many Singaporeans raised funds and volunteered in the disaster relief efforts. We are heartened that the spirit and resilience of the Philippine people remain strong in such devastation," he said. "We have been working with the Philippine government and stakeholders in the rehabilitation efforts.Tomorrow, I will be handing over Singapore people’s contributions to various partners and projects to alleviate the difficult situation caused by the typhoon. President Aquino, Mary and I look forward for a fruitful visit, where we will meet all and make new friends, and to cement the deep friendship between our two peoples.”
Tan was accorded arrival honors and received by the Cabinet and members of the Singapore delegation.
In his speech, Aquino said he discussed areas of cooperation and solidarity with Tan, even as he thanked Singapore for its assistance to the Philippines during the aftermath of Yolanda.
“Singapore was one of the first countries to reach out to the Filipino people in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan—and the assistance that their people and government gave is deeply appreciated. Singapore deployed a Civil Defense Force team to assist the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities," he said.
"They also deployed a C-130 aircraft to support ferrying operations between Tacloban and Manila. This is on top of the cash and in-kind donations consisting of 33,600 US dollars in emergency supplies, 96,000 US dollars in relief goods, and 160,000 US dollars as seed money for the Singapore Red Cross’ Typhoon Haiyan fund-raising drive. Fund-raising efforts by the private sector, businesses, non-government organizations, the academe, as well as the Overseas Filipino Community in Singapore have also raised more than 10 million US dollars, all for the survivors of the typhoon. Singapore’s generosity will indeed be remembered with gratitude," he added.
"I am pleased to note that part of His Excellency’s itinerary is a visit to Basey, Western Samar, where he will present medical supplies to the Basey District Hospital, which is a joint rehabilitation project of the Singapore Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Our government’s plan is to build back better, stronger, and more resilient communities, and the speedy rehabilitation of health service facilities in affected areas is key to these efforts," Aquino said.
"I have always said that we Filipinos never forget the kindness extended to us by friends—and I reiterate that now, as Singapore continues to lend a helping hand. we also discussed the expansion of cooperation with Singapore in the fields of infrastructure and construction, tourism facilities, information technology-business process management, shipbuilding, logistics services, and agribusiness. We also extended an invitation to Singapore to participate further in the Philippines’ business sector, specifically through the Philippines-Singapore Business Council,” he said.
Following the joint statement, Aquino hosted a state luncheon for Tan at Malacanan’s Rizal Hall. Aquino’s sister Pinky joined the President in the event.
In his toast, Tan noted how much the Philippines changed since his last time in the country 10 years ago.
Tan said he is also looking forward to a 25% increase in air travel between the Philippines and Singapore.
In this visit, the President of Singapore was accompanied by Mrs. Mary Tan; Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu; Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi; Members of Parliament Lam Pin Min and Vikram Nair; and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Enterprise Singapore, and Ministry of Manpower.
Aquino made a state visit to Singapore in March 2011.
President Aquino said there are about 180,000 Filipinos in Singapore.
According to the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre – Singapore, the city-state is a strategic market and major source of investments.
In 2011, Singapore was the Philippine’s 4th largest export market (US$4.27 billion) and the 5th largest source of investments (US$ 345 million).