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Aquino co-chairs Bali forum

President Benigno S. Aquino III AP FILE PHOTO

President Benigno S. Aquino III AP FILE PHOTO

BALI, Indonesia—President Aquino arrived here on Thursday, a day ahead of the opening of the 7th Bali Democracy Forum, to deliver a speech before high-level representatives from 51 participant countries as well as 68 international observers.

Coming here as the Philippines’ head of state and the son of its two democracy icons, Aquino will co-chair the two-day annual democracy forum with outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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He arrived Thursday night at Nusa Dua here for the opening of the forum at the Bali International Convention Center, where he will be joined by two other heads of states—Timor Leste’s Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao and the Sultan of Brunei, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, who are also expected to deliver their remarks.

Malacañang was not sure whether Aquino would use the occasion to tackle the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China with its regional partners on the sidelines of the forum.

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“I am not sure if that is included, if that item is specifically included in the agenda because the focus is really more general and broader, which is political development, public participation and socioeconomic progress,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told reporters.

China is among the 54 countries participating in the forum, which was initiated by Indonesia in 2008.

Coloma described the outgoing Indonesian President as the country’s “close friend and a staunch supporter of government’s efforts to advance peace in Mindanao and promote the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.”

The President’s trip to Bali was scheduled less than two weeks after he returned from a 12-day trip to Europe and the United States.

In Europe, Aquino got the support of Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and the European community for the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes, particularly through arbitration.

In Bali, the President will “share our country’s rich experience in achieving democracy leading to the implementation of the democratic processes in our nation,” said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

“As the son of democracy icons—the late Senator Ninoy Aquino and former President Cory Aquino—President Aquino can truly be an inspiration to other heads of states and governments and the rest of the participants.”

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The forum allows participants to share “experiences and best practices that adhere to the principle of equality, mutual respect and understanding, with the participating countries sharing its ownership,” according to its website.

This will be Yudhoyono’s last forum before president-elect Joko Widodo assumes office this month and leads the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

While Yudhoyono initiated the forum in 2008 with the primary aim of fostering dialogue-based cooperation through experiences and best democratic practices in the Asia-Pacific region, the event is presently beset by controversies even as civil society groups here have announced a boycott.

Ironically, protests around the Nusa Dua area have been banned by the Indonesian authorities, according to a Jakarta Post news report.

However, Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia Maria Rosario Aguinaldo said Mr. Aquino’s participation in the forum is important to the Philippines.

Aguinaldo said in an interview that the President’s attendance in the forum, along with its existing bilateral agreements, is a proof of the Philippines’ and Indonesia’s “close and warm relations.”

Highest award

At the sidelines of the forum, the Indonesian government will confer upon Aquino its highest award—the “Bintang Republik Indonesia Adipurna (Star of the Republic of Indonesia).”

Ochoa described it as “the highest decoration awarded by the Jakarta government to an individual who has contributed extraordinary service to the integrity, viability and greatness of Indonesia.”

Aguinaldo said the award is given to those who have rendered extraordinary service to Indonesia and the foreign heads of states who had received the award are mostly royalty.

“The award has been given to the Queen of England, the Queen of the Netherlands, the King of Thailand, the two Sultans of Malaysia, the first King of Bahrain and the Sultan of Oman. This is the first time a Filipino is receiving the award,” the ambassador said.

Two Filipinos—former Foreign Secretaries Narciso Ramos and Carlos P. Romulo—had received the second highest award.

Last May, the Indonesian president was the recipient of the Order of Sikatuna Rank of Raja, the highest diplomatic award given by the Philippines to visiting leaders.

Close allies

The bilateral relations between the Philippines and its neighbor, which date back to 1949, have been strengthened by agreements covering wide range of areas such as defense and security and trade and investments.

Indonesia has been the country’s close ally. In fact, Aquino as president has visited Indonesia five times in three years, Aguinaldo said.

During the state visit of the Indonesian president in May, Aquino called him “uncle,” saying he had learned a lot from the man’s wisdom.

Yudhoyono will step down in 10 days and be replaced by Widodo who was widely believed as the person to usher in changes in the political landscape of this country.

Organizers said the Indonesian president-elect will not likely attend the forum since he was not in any way part of the program.

The government allotted P7.1 million for the two-day trip, which will officially begin Friday.

Aquino’s 47-member delegation includes Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Abad and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

Aquino is expected fly back to Manila Friday night.

Originally posted at 11:40 pm | Thursday, October 9, 2014

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TAGS: Bali Democracy Forum, Benigno Aquino III, bilateral agreements, Bintang Republik Indonesia Adipurna, Diplomacy, Economy, Foreign affairs, Global Nation, Indonesia, International relations, International Trade, Joko Widodo, Maria Rosario Aguinaldo, official visit, Philippine president, Raniel Ramiro, Star of the Republic of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
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