Philippines pledges US$300k to Burma’s Rakhine State
NAY PYI TAW, Burma — Here, the Philippine government is particularly concerned about humanitarian efforts.
The Philippine government has pledged US$300,000 in humanitarian assistance to Burma (Myanmar’s) Rakhine State–known internationally for being a hotbed of religious violence between the Buddhist communities and the persecuted minority Rohingya Muslims.
The pledge was made official during President Duterte’s meeting with Burma President Htin Kyaw and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the President’s Palace here in the nation’s capital on Monday afternoon, the second and last day of Duterte’s first official visit to Burma.
The usually tough-talking, invective-spewing Duterte turned into a polite gentleman when he met with Suu Kyi, handing her a bouquet of red roses at the start of the closed-door meeting.
Duterte, who is facing international criticism for human rights violations in his war on drugs back in the Philippines, had wrapped up the meeting by handing Suu Kyi a symbolic check representing the Philippines’ pledge for humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State.
The democratic icon and Nobel Peace Prize awardee Suu Kyi, Burma’s de facto leader especially on international affairs, later issued a letter of appreciation, thanking the Philippine government for the “thoughtful gesture” which “reflects the Asean solidarity and family spirit, as well as the traditional bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”
The Philippines is this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) chair and will be hosting the regional summit.
“I thank you and the people of Myanmar for the timely assistance, particularly those who were affected by typhoon ‘Pablo, which hit my island in Mindanao, the earthquake in Bohol, and typhoon [Haiyan],” Duterte had said, in his toast remarks read out at the banquet hosted by Burma President Htin Kyaw for Duterte, also attended by Suu Kyi, later in the evening. Burma was the first to help the Philippines when the country was hit by supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013.
Before meeting with Suu Kyi, Duterte first held bilateral talks with President Htin Kyaw, the nation’s first civilian President after five decades under a military junta.
The two Presidents had overseen a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding on food security and agricultural cooperation.
In his toast remarks, President Htin Kyaw described the afternoon’s bilateral talks with Duterte as being “open and cordial,” and “related to our existing cooperation and on plans for our future cooperation.”
“We strongly believe that we have ample opportunities to promote our bilateral cooperation, particularly in trade, investment, tourism, food processing, and agriculture, among others,” Htin Kyaw noted.
Duterte, during the banquet, said the Philippines has been aiming for more cooperations in agriculture, labor and trade and investment, and a “broad range of issues.”
“In defense and security, we must work closer to address the threats of terrorism and violent extremism that undermine the economic progress we have so far achieved,” Duterte said.
Duterte returned to form when he added “We should be unrelenting in our fight to dismantle the apparatus of the illegal drug trade. This menace is a challenge that knows no borders and affects all of us in the region.”
Duterte, earlier in the afternoon, had met separately with Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to “explore deepening of bilateral defense cooperation.”
Among the Cabinet secretaries joining Duterte in the Burma trip were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, national security advisor Hermogenes Esperon, and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Isidro Lapena.
During the banquet, Duterte also encouraged the Burmese government to avail of education, training, capacity building and human resource development opportunities in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, “Philippine companies will remain keenly interested in the development potentials of [Burma], which is among the highest in the [southeast Asian] region,” Duterte added.
Earlier in the day, a group of Filipino companies which have offices in Myanmar paid a courtesy call to Duterte. Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, part of Duterte’s delegation in Burma, said there were more than 20 Filipino firms in the country.
“Our trading with Myanmar is still small–we’re just starting to trade again,” Lopez noted, in an interview. “Our relationship here is a bit of a start-up–but these are opportunities.” The Philippines’ major imports from Burma are agricultural products, while the Philippines’ top exports to Burma are medicaments for therapeutic or prophylactic uses.
Lopez said the Philippine government was eyeing Burma as a potential market for hybrid rice seed exports developed in the Philippines.
After the banquet, Duterte and the Philippine delegation flew to neighboring Thailand for a three-day official visit. SFM
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