MANILA, Philippines – Visiting Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta (SOM) Fra’ Matthew Festing on Tuesday, February 3, handed over to President Benigno Aquino III a symbolic key to to represent a donation of 700 core shelters in Basey, Samar, and Cebu.
Festing, in the Philippines for a week-long visit, was feted to arrival honors in Malacañang where he had a bilateral meeting with Aquino, and where he was awarded the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja, the highest order of diplomatic merit given by the Philippines.
SOM is one of the world’s oldest Catholic religious orders and also a sovereign entity with diplomatic relations with over 100 countries.
In his remarks at the courtesy call of Festing, Aquino cited SOM for its humanitarian endeavors.
“Over the years, we have witnessed you carry out this mission in many instances through your charitable works,” the President said.
He added, “From the humanitarian relief assistance you extended in the aftermath eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, to the 700 new homes you constructed for those who were affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, you have consistently helped us alleviate the suffering of our countrymen in the soonest possible time.”
The visit marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and SOM.
Aquino said the symbolic turnover of the shelters “complements our own government’s plan to build back better: to break the vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction by emphasizing long-term resilience in our reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”
The shelters, which are in various stages of development, are expected to be completed by end-May.
In return, Festing expressed hope that the owners of the new homes will live in the shelters “in peace, harmony and security.”
“We stand by our commitment to work with your people accompanying the delivery of goods and the construction of infrastructures with solidarity and brotherhood embodied in our shared values,” he said.
Festing also said he hopes to strengthen collaboration and relations with the Philippines in the near future.
“We are discussing the possibility of a cooperation agreement and indeed the elaboration of what we have been doing here so far,” he added.
At the courtesy call, Aquino also welcomed the news that Malteser International, the relief and humanitarian arm of SOM, plans to establish a regional office in Southeast Asia.
“Its physical presence in our part of the world will certainly benefit Asian countries by allowing more effective coordination and execution of relief activities, and facilitating our increased cooperation in areas of mutual benefit,” he said.
On Friday, March 5, Festing and his delegation will visit Basey, Samar, to check on SOM’s donation of 350 core shelters there.
Festing, an Englishman, will be the second Prince and Grand Master of the SOM to visit the Philippines, following the visit of Fra’ Angelo de Mojana di Cologna in February 1979.
According to the SOM’s official website, the Rome-based SOM “works in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid, in over 120 countries, supported by the diplomatic relations it currently has with 105 nations.”
“The Order also runs hospitals, medical centers, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centers for the terminally ill. In many countries the Order’s volunteer corps provide first aid, social services, emergency and humanitarian interventions,” it said. – Rappler.com
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