MANILA, Philippines – As they approached the seventh decade of their bilateral ties, the Philippines and Thailand reaffirmed their commitment to step up their “partnership for prosperity” through stronger cooperation in trade and investments, people-to-people exchanges, and security.
President Benigno Aquino III and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha – in Manila for a two-day official visit – reiterated the pledge on Friday, August 28, during a meeting in Malacañang.
In his statement, Aquino said the two countries’ high level of friendship could be seen in their numerous bilateral agreements and enhanced cooperation in areas including air services, defense, agriculture, energy, tourism, and culture.
Aquino said that aside from being an economic partner, Thailand has also “proven to be a dependable and steadfast friend” whenever the Philippines is hit by a calamity. He cited its assistance of $100,000 and 500 metric tons of rice to victims of Typhoon Hagupit in 2014.
“This very solidarity between the Philippines and Thailand was reaffirmed in the meeting I had with the Prime Minister. Our discussions specifically focused on trade and investments, security, and the strengthening of our people-to-people ties,” he said.
Prayut said: “We shared the view that as Thailand and the Philippines approach 7 decades of our relations and the formation of the ASEAN community this year, we should work even more closely together in enhancing the ‘Partnership for Prosperity’ between Thailand and the Philippines, and strengthening the ASEAN community at large.”
The Philippines and Thailand forged bilateral relations on June 14, 1949.
On security cooperation, the two leaders welcomed the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Working Group of the Philippine Army and Royal Thai Army in April this year.
“We are confident that this agreement will further strengthen our defense and security cooperation for the welfare of our peoples and of our brothers in ASEAN,” Aquino said.
The Thai Prime Minister, former chief of the Royal Thai Army, said he and Aquino also exchanged views on regional matters, particularly ASEAN-China relations and the situation in the South China Sea. Thailand is currently the country coordinator for ASEAN-China relations.
He said Thailand “affirms to cooperate with the Philippines and ASEAN countries in fully implementing the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and promoting consultation.”
Investments, people-to-people exchanges
Prayut urged Philippine businessmen to invest in Thailand. He said “both countries have the potential to expand bilateral trade and investment cooperation and support the ASEAN community,” citing the 10% growth of bilateral trade in 2014.
Thailand was the Philippines’ eighth largest trading partner in 2014, with two-way trade amounting to $5.83 billion. The Philippines is Thailand’s 6th largest trading partner in the ASEAN, and 18th largest trading partner in the world.
The Thai leader also credited Aquino for turning the Philippines into a “rising star” in the region through his “Straight Path (Daang Matuwid)” governance.
“I am confident that the vision laid by President Aquino will serve as an important foundation in guiding the Philippines to greater prosperity in the future,” he said.
Prayut also said that Thailand can learn from the Philippine government’s “successful administration” of overseas Filipino workers, particularly on the creation of funds to assist workers’ employment and the reintegration of returning overseas workers.
“In this regard, I proposed to the President for both countries to promote bilateral consular cooperation to protect and assist overseas workers of Thailand and the Philippines in various situations,” he said.
Prayut also expressed his “sincere condolences” to the Philippine national who was injured in the bomb blast in Bangkok on August 17. During their meeting, Aquino personally conveyed the Philippines’ condolences to Thailand over the deaths in the blast.
Prayut said the situation is now “under control,” and that authorities are tracking down the perpetrators. He said he updated Aquino on political developments in Thailand.
Teachers, fight vs drugs
The two leaders committed to work on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation in Combating Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs.
“As part of our efforts, coordinated operations between Philippine and Thai agencies will be conducted; and through this process, we look forward to sharing information between our relevant law enforcement agencies,” Aquino said.
The two countries are also continuing to work on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the Exchanges of Professional Teachers which will further enhance the capabilities and competencies of their teachers.
Aquino thanked Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, through the Prime Minister, for including 3 Philippine schools in the Collaboration Project on Children and Youth Development.
“Without doubt, this will bolster the capacities of our institutions to further empower our youth,” he said.
Aquino hosted a luncheon in honor of Prayut and his delegation in Malacañang, where the two leaders each gave a toast. Prayut seemed to have been the first visiting leader who delivered his toast entirely in his native language, without being translated into English.
The only English words he uttered were prior to his toast, when he remarked to Aquino, “You speak very fast,” which drew laughter from the guests. Then he added, “Me too” before reading his toast.
Prayut, with wife Madame Naraporn Chan-O-Cha and his official delegation, arrived in Manila early Thursday night for the two-day official visit – his first Philippine visit since he assumed office in 2014.
He started Friday with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal Monument at Rizal Park, before proceeding to Malacañang for the welcome honors, followed by his courtesy call on Aquino, the expanded bilateral meeting, and the official luncheon.
Prayut was scheduled to leave Manila Friday afternoon. – Rappler.com