MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III welcomed Timor Leste Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao to Malacañang Palace on Thursday, June 6, as the two countries reaffirmed mutual support through agreements on education, defense, infrastructure development, and trade.
Aquino described the continued partnership of the two countries as part of "efforts in fostering greater cooperation and solidarity in Southeast Asia."
"Over the course of 11 years, the Philippines and Timor Leste have worked hand-in-hand in pursuing strategies that will turn this very vision of mutual prosperity and peace into tangible realities for our peoples," Aquino said in his speech after the signing of agreements.
Aquino also emphasized his support for Timor Leste's bid to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is currently mulling whether it would welcome Timor Leste – the youngest nation in the region – as a member.
Gusmao, for his part, described the discussions between his country and the Philippines as "warm, friendly and productive." He thanked Aquino and the Philippine government for supporting their bid for ASEAN membership, and said he believes Timor Leste can contribute to the region if accepted.
The Philippines and Timor Leste signed 3 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs).
The first MOU, between the two countries' foreign affairs agencies, establishes a bilateral mechanism that promises dialogue and exchange of views on bilateral, regional, and international issues of mutual interest. These include military consultations and sharing of intelligence. Aquino said the agreement "is vital to maintaining peace and security on our part of the world."
Another MOU, between the Philippines' Department of Public Works and Highways and Timor Leste's Ministry of Public Works, commits the DPWH to assist Timor Leste public works' personnel in infrastructure planning, quality control, and maintenance.
The agreement "opens more doors of opportunity for both our peoples" and will continue to help the economy, the same way the trade between the Philippines and Timor Leste did, according to Aquino. Trade between the two almost tripled from 2011 to 2012.
Philippine Normal University and the Ministry of Education of Timor Leste also signed an MOU, which aims to enhance training of Timorese teachers in various degrees, programs, and specializations.
In disasters, Timor Leste has historically extended aid to the Philippines, such as its $750,000 assistance to victims of the deadly Typhoon Pablo last December. – Rappler.com