Duterte to reaffirm ties on first state visit to Singapore

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reviewing honour guards during a departure ceremony at the Manila International Airport in Pasay City.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reviewing honour guards during a departure ceremony at the Manila International Airport in Pasay City.PHOTO: EPA

Philippine leader will meet PM Lee, attend state banquet hosted by President Tan today

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte begins his first state visit to Singapore today, where he will meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to discuss trade, defence and Asean issues and reaffirm the close ties between the two countries.

"The ties between Singapore and the Philippines are exceptional. But there are still issues of mutual concerns we can work on, and areas where there is room for significant growth," Mr Duterte said on Tuesday.

Mr Duterte and Mr Lee will meet this afternoon. The two last met at the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Vientiane, Laos, in September, when Mr Lee invited the Philippine President to visit the Republic.

Mr Duterte will be hosted by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at a state banquet this evening.

He is expected to get a sampling of durian - a favourite delicacy among Singaporeans and a key export product of his home city of Davao - when he meets Mr Lee again for lunch tomorrow.

KEY ISSUES

The ties between Singapore and the Philippines are exceptional. But there are still issues of mutual concerns we can work on, and areas where there is room for significant growth.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE

 

There will also be an orchid-naming ceremony at the Singapore Botanic Gardens for the 71-year-old anti-crime President.

Meetings with Singapore's business leaders and the Filipino community have also been arranged, hours before Mr Duterte flies back to the Philippines tomorrow evening.

Mr Duterte said on Tuesday that he wants two-way trade and investments between the Philippines and Singapore to grow. Singapore is the Philippines' top trading partner among Asean's member states, and its fourth-largest globally, after Japan, China and the United States.

A number of Singapore companies are already operating in the Philippines, among them SIA Engineering, Sembcorp, Singtel and BreadTalk. Several more are keen to invest in the Philippines, with an eye on tapping opportunities in growth areas outside the capital Manila, such as Cebu, according to International Enterprise Singapore.

Mr Duterte said on Tuesday that he would also seek to strengthen defence and security ties between the Philippines and Singapore "to address traditional and emerging threats that undermine progress".

"Countering terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation will be the key areas of discussion, as well as the war on illegal drugs," he said.

In his earlier visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, Mr Duterte hammered out agreements on joint efforts to combat sea piracy, the narcotics trade and a spate of kidnappings plaguing the waters off Malaysia's Sabah state and the Philippines' Sulu archipelago.

Mr Duterte is also expected to discuss with Mr Lee the Philippines' chairmanship of Asean next year.

"For the reason that we are hosting the Asean summit next November, I have to go around Asean and get their views on what will be the policy or policies of Asean vis-a-vis the rest of the world... We are trying to get a unified stand," he said.

Mr Duterte remains widely popular among some 180,000 Filipinos in Singapore, despite criticisms of his controversial anti-crime drive. Three out of four Filipinos residing in Singapore who voted in the election in May wrote down his name on the ballot.

"They feel he wants to get the job done, unlike many before him, who were self-serving," said magazine publisher Clement Mesenas, 70.

Mr Joel Domingo, a manager, said he disagrees with some of the steps Mr Duterte has taken.

For instance, the 48-year-old is put off by the thousands of killings that have blighted Mr Duterte's war on crime.

"But overall, he is doing a good job so far," said Mr Domingo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte to reaffirm ties on first state visit to Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe