Natural gas, Spratlys issue top agenda of Aquino, Bolkiah
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN—Natural gas exploration and the South China Sea dispute were on top of the agenda when President Aquino and Brunei’s Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah met here on Wednesday, as the sultanate received the Philippine president in full royal regalia.
The two countries also signed separate five-year memoranda of understanding to promote cooperation and encourage greater private sector participation in developing shipping, tourism, agriculture and sports.
Speaking about the Spratlys dispute in a briefing at the Rizqun Hotel here, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said Aquino sought oil-rich Brunei’s help in developing natural gas infrastructure in the Philippines.
“The President invited Brunei to look at the development of infrastructure for natural gas so that this can be used as the main fuel for transport in the Philippines. The two leaders agreed that a working group will be formed in order to flesh out the implementation of the agreement,” said Coloma.
From his two-hour flight from Manila, Aquino arrived aboard a Rolls Royce at the Istana Nurul Iman, the royal residence, at 11 a.m. on Wednesday and was welcomed by a royal gun salute.
Bolkiah, the rest of the royal family, Brunei ministers and members of the diplomatic corps lined the palace’s main hallway to welcome Aquino.
The Philippine delegation brought a dozen boxes of ice cream in different flavors, a royal favorite, as a gift to Bolkiah, according to embassy officials.
During bilateral talks, the two leaders “expressed a desire to maintain peace and stability in area through multilateral dialogue with claimant countries,” Coloma said.
“During talks, the Sultan also said that it’s best to have good relations with China. Two leaders have repeatedly [emphasized] the need for peaceful approaches and peaceful solutions,” Coloma said.
Brunei and the Philippines both have partial claims to the Spratlys, a resource-rich group of islands in the South China Sea. China, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim ownership of the islands in part or as a whole.
Aquino recently discussed the Spratlys issue with Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie when the latter visited the Philippines two weeks ago. He warned that an “arms race” might ensue between the two nations if China continued to provoke the Philippines through military movement in the islands.
“The concept that the two leaders discussed is multilateral dialogue, participated in by ASEAN and all claimant countries and China in the spirit of cooperation. If the objective is peace and stability, the stance being taken by the sultan is to engage in multilateral talks,” said Coloma.
Asked if Aquino mentioned recent incidents between China and the Philippines in the Kalaayan group of islands, Coloma said: “The President alluded to certain challenges in the area, but that did not constitute a lengthy discussion.”
“The President simply told the sultan that, recently, there had been some developments in some area, that leads us to be more purposive and determined in seeking peaceful cooperation and dialogue,” said Coloma.
Aquino also invited Bolkiah to visit the Philippines to inaugurate a learning center and a grand mosque built through Brunei funding in Cotabato City, Coloma said.
The President also expressed gratitude for Brunei’s participation in the international monitoring team keeping watch on peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Aquino also met with the Filipino community in Brunei Wednesday afternoon, recalling his first visit in the country 23 years ago during the presidency of his late mother, President Corazon Aquino.
Some 18,000 Filipinos work in Brunei, among them engineers, teachers and service workers.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.