(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III will next week make his first official visit to Australia and New Zealand and meet the leaders of both countries.
Aquino is set to first visit New Zealand from October 22 to 23 and then Australia from October 24 to 26 upon the invitation of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, respectively, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday, October 17.
Accompanied by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, among other officials, the President will discuss foreign policy, defense and trade issues as well as the recent signing of the Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Pinoys 1% of NZ population
On the first leg of his trip, Aquino will visit New Zealand, where 36,000 resident Filipinos make up around 1% of the population.
The President is scheduled to meet with the Filipino community in Auckland, attend a business forum and meet with Kiwi businessmen interested in investing in the Philippines.
Aquino will then proceed to the capital, Wellington, to meet with Prime Minister Key and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the first Maori (member of the indigenous population of the country) to hold the office of head of state and representative of British Queen Elizabeth II.
“I am delighted to welcome President Aquino on his first visit to New Zealand, particularly as our countries share so many interests, including as members of regional forums such as APEC and the East Asia Summit,” Key said in a statement on Monday.
Key stressed that the Philippines is the third largest market for New Zealand dairy exports and revealed both countries want to explore collaboration on business opportunities in geothermal industry, tourism and aviation.
Key has also been been asked by local human rights groups to raise the issue of justice for victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, which Aquino has promised to deliver under his watch.
PH-Australia SOFVA ratified
After New Zealand, Aquino will travel to Australia, where he will meet in the capital, Canberra, with Prime Minister Gillard and Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
The President is expected to brief Gillard on the latest developments regarding the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), signed in 2008 but only ratified by the Senate last July.
Asked about his upcoming trip, Aquino said that the Philippines is offering Australia the same strategic partnership
“We’re offering the third to Australia and they are presently studying it. But even in the absence of that, they are already helping us with the Coast Watch System. There are various trainings being conducted by their military security forces with our own personnel”, the president noted at the Annual Presidential Forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Aquino stressed that the Philippines and Australia share the same values as democracies.
“We have been normally on the same side of issues that have confronted our respective peoples since at least World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. We face the same challenges be it terrorism, global climate change, relationships with the superpower in the neighborhood,” he said in reference to China.
Aquino will then travel to Sydney, where he will attend the Philippines-Australia Business Forum and meet with the CEOs of several Australian companies looking to investment in the Philippines.
The President is also set to unveil a statue of Jose Rizal and exchange views with the Filipino community in the Australia’s largest city.
Almost a quarter million Filipinos live in Australia, where the Philippines is one of the top ten countries for recent migrant arrivals. – Rappler.com
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