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Asia-Europe meet: Aquino to see Filipinos in Laos

/ 05:49 AM November 03, 2012

President Benigno Aquino III. MALACAÑANG PHOTO BUREAU

MANILA, Philippines—A meeting with the Filipino community is at the top of President Aquino’s schedule when he flies to Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) on Sunday for the 9th Asia Europe Meeting (Asem).

Three hundred representatives from the relatively small Filipino community in Lao PDR, or Laos, will welcome Mr. Aquino when he arrives in the country’s capital, Vientiane.

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As of December 2011, there were 556 Filipinos in Laos and most of them work as consultants to United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), engineers in mining and hydropower projects, English teachers, accountants, and office workers.

The Filipinos said they were eager to meet with the President, but Roselie Mabunga, head teacher at the Panyathip International School, said she wished the President would visit Laos more often to tell them they had not been left alone, according to a Malacañang statement.

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Leodia Pagunsan, director of the Sangdara International Bilingual School, likened the meeting with the President to a child receiving a visit from a father after a long absence.

“We will be so happy to meet him because he is the father of our nation,” Pagunsan said.

Economic cooperation

Businessman Ashmad Hiya, who owns a restaurant and guesthouse called “Bahay Pinoy,” said he was looking forward to meeting Mr. Aquino and hoped the President would continue to run the government well.

At the Asem, to be held from November 5 to 6, Mr. Aquino will call for upholding migrant workers’ rights amid economic hardships, push for improved partnership between Asia and Europe to boost the regions’ economic standing, and seek stronger support for the creation of Bangsamoro, a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, to end an insurgency that has killed more than 150,000 people in southern Philippines.

Mr. Aquino’s attendance at the Asem is intended to boost economic and political ties with the European region and to explore new partnerships and areas of cooperation. A new Philippine initiative on disaster management is expected to be announced.

On the sidelines of the Asem, the President will hold bilateral talks with six European leaders to tackle a variety of issues, including human rights, disaster risk reduction, and labor and economic concerns, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Buensuceso said in a statement.

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First Asem

This is the first time that the President is attending the Asem. He canceled his trip to the last Asem in 2010, held in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr. Aquino will hold talks with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the Philippines’ progress in dealing with the European Union’s (EU) concerns involving Philippine maritime training and certification system as well as compliance with air safety standards.

He is also scheduled to meet with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to discuss the human rights compensation bill, cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management, and economic cooperation.

Another meeting has been scheduled with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to tackle defense and finance, while the meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jen Stoltenberg will focus on Norway’s role in the Philippine peace processes and on boosting bilateral maritime and labor cooperation.

With Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Mr. Aquino will discuss opportunities for cooperation in defense and higher education.

Political ties

Buensuceso said political ties between Europe and the Philippines were strong. The EU, she said, is a member of the International Monitoring Team in the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), while the United Kingdom is a member of the International Contact Group for the peace process.

Norway is also facilitating the peace talks between the government and communist rebels, she said.

“The President will seize the opportunity provided by Asem to engage relevant European partners in order to firm up support for the development of the Bangsamoro,” she said.

The Philippines also intends to seek new investment from Russia, Finland and Spain.

Europe is the Philippines’ third largest trade partner after North America and Asia. Trade with Europe amounted to $13 billion in 2011, while investment from the EU was P33.3 billion.

Mr. Aquino is also scheduled to participate in the discussion on migration, where he will talk about the importance of upholding migrant workers’ rights amid economic hardships in host countries. There are some 746,701 Filipino workers in Europe.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Laos, President Aquino
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