MANILA, Philippines—The new Philippine ambassador to Samoa has met with the South Pacific country’s head of state, thanking him for supporting Manila’s international endeavors and pushing for greater security and economic cooperation between the two nations.
The meeting between Ambassador Virginia Benavidez and Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi took place November 13 in the Samoan capital Apia, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The ambassador, among others, relayed the Philippine government’s “deep appreciation for the support extended by His Highness’ Government to the candidatures of the Philippines in various international organizations,” the DFA said.
Following the formal Samoan tradition, Benavidez was welcomed with a traditional ava ceremony organized by orators speaking on behalf of Tupua and serving a drink which were taken by guests while seated. She was accompanied by the assistant chief executive officer, Tasha Shon and the secretary to the head of state Logo Silao Lemana.
Tupua, 74, whose official title is O le Ao o le Malo, “literally chieftain of the government,” is among the few heads of state in the world who is not a monarch or a president. Although elected, he is styled “His Highness.”
The envoy presented his credentials to Tupua, who was with his wife, Her Highness Filifilia Tamasese.
In her remarks, Benavidez conveyed to Tupua President Aquino’s greetings and highlighted continuing “close and friendly relations” with Samoa at the bilateral, regional and multilateral arenas. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1981.
Benavidez added that the Philippines and Samoa, being both Pacific countries, have been facing the same challenges and sharing the same opportunities and responsibilities.
The envoy and Tupua also spoke about boosting “people to people ties” as well as “translat(ing) into practical ways our shared commitment to work together and develop alongside each other.”
She cited the presence of a growing number of Filipinos engaged in various professions, businesses and employment levels in Samoa “that deepen the reservoir of goodwill and understanding between the two peoples and support for each other.”
She said the Philippines also welcomed the increasing number of students and priests from Samoa.
Benavidez also met with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also the country’s foreign minister; Deputy Prime inister Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo and New Zealand High Commissioner Nicholas Hurly, the dean of the diplomatic corps in Samoa.
Benavidez is based in New Zealand, where she is the resident ambassador. She is also the non-resident ambassador to Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and the Cook Islands—all in the South Pacific.
According to the DFA, the Philippines and Samoa are “active participants” in the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum and are “natural partners” in collectively pursuing cooperation in such vital areas as the environment, climate change, fisheries, biodiversity protection and preservation, education and tourism promotion.
Other priority areas for island countries like Samoa and the Philippines are climate change and sea level rise and the consequential challenges of adaptation, environmental degradation, fisheries, sustainable development, and regional security among others.
The Philippines and Samoa also share similar values and principles in the promotion of basic human rights, general disarmament, democracy, the fight against terrorism and contribution to conflict resolution, the DFA added.