MANILA (UPDATE 2) - Chinese President Xi Jinping met with leaders of the Philippine Congress Wednesday, the last day of his state visit here, and discussed ties between Manila and Beijing.
Xi met with former president and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III at the Shangri-La Hotel at the Fort in Taguig City before leaving Manila Wednesday afternoon.
They were joined by members of the Chinese delegation as well as Philippine government officials: Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Ping Lacson, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Gregorio Honasan, Deputy Speaker Arthur Yap, Representatives Feliciano Belmonte, Dennis Laogan, Federico Sandoval and Frederick Siao, and former Rep. Mat Defensor, who is part of Arroyo's technical staff.
During the joint call of both houses of Congress on Xi, Sotto spoke about the importance of good relations between the Philippines and China.
"Moreover, he emphasized that there is certainly much more that binds the Philippines and China together than what may divide the two," said a statement released by Sotto's office Wednesday afternoon, an apparent reference to unresolved disputes in the South China Sea.
Sotto's office said Xi responded by saying the contested waters "is a sea of friendship and cooperation that creates a bond of friendship for the two nations."
It said the Chinese leader also gave Filipino lawmakers a rundown of China's future plans for the Philippines, including "increasing job opportunities for Filipino teachers and nurses; multiplying mutual visits from 1 Million to 2 Million; and opening up free trade to the Philippines, among others."
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was at the meeting, said the Chinese leader offered to accept more Filipino migrant workers to Beijing, particularly English teachers and nurses.
"We discussed continued trade between China and the Philippines, support on the anti-terrorism and anti-drugs campaign, tourism development, and President Xi offered to accept more English teachers from the Philippines and even possibly more nurses," Zubiri told reporters.
In her remarks, Arroyo, meanwhile, said Philippine-China ties over the last two years have been "very good indeed, perhaps as good as it has ever been."
"Two major reasons for these are the positive attitude our President Duterte has towards China and Your Excellency’s enlightened attitude," said Arroyo, addressing Xi.
She said her chamber's legislative agenda is focused on areas that would help spur economic growth, particularly infrastructure spending.
"... [I]nfrastructure will be very important for the Philippines in the coming years. And there is no country in the world that matches China’s recent track record and capability in this area," the Speaker said.
Xi is the first Chinese president to hold a state visit to the Philippines in 13 years.
He arrived in Manila on Tuesday and witnessed the signing of 29 deals between China and the Philippines, including a memorandum of understanding on the cooperation on oil and gas development.
The Chinese leader earlier met with President Rodrigo Duterte who has sought warmer ties with Beijing to boost trade with Asia's largest economy, setting aside unresolved disputes in the South China Sea.
- with reports from RG Cruz and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News