President Benigno Aquino III swore into office Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras and incoming Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla before leaving for the 9th Asia-Europe summit (ASEM) in Laos on Sunday, November 4. The ceremonies were held at the pre-departure area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 at not Malacañang Palace as is customary. Almendras, a former classmate and trusted friend of the President, was moved to the Office of the President after heading the energy department for two years. Aquino handpicked Petilla, serving his last and third consecutive term as Leyte governor, as replacement of Almendras. The President is attending the ASEM meeting for the first time and is expected to exchange views with his counterparts from both Asia and Europe on trade and investment, energy and food security, disaster management, counter-terrorism, migration and regional issues, the foreign office said. Before his departure, Aquino said he would raise overlapping claims to the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) during the summit. The territorial dispute has been an irritant in bilateral relations and has been a source of tension in the region.
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