By ZAINAL ALAM KADIR / Pic By ISMAIL CHE
Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s three-day visit to the Philippines that begins today — his first bilateral official visit to Manila since his resumption of office in May 2018 — will pave the way for a stronger bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
The Embassy of Malaysia in the Philippines deputy chief of mission Rizany Irwan Muhamad Mazlan said the official visit is expected to see officials from both countries discussing various issues that would be beneficial for both countries in terms of economic growth, trade relations, as well as other issues that would further strengthen the ties between Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Manila.
He said Dr Mahathir’s visit, upon the invitation of President Rodrigo Duterte, is significant as Malaysia is seen as a model for the Philippines to move forward in various areas.
“As it is, Duterte has been observing Dr Mahathir’s approach in building Malaysia into a formidable force in the region, and this meeting is expected to provide opportunities for both leaders to further strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation between the two countries,” Rizany Irwan told the Malaysian press at the embassy in Makati City yesterday.
The visit, with the theme “Partners for Progress, Brothers for Peace”, is also part of Dr Mahathir’s introductory visit to neighbouring South-East Asian countries since becoming the PM again.
The meeting would allow Dr Mahathir to highlight Malaysia’s current policies and the country’s stand on issues of mutual concern. Both leaders would also have the the opportunity to exchange views on regional and global issues that are of common interests.
Dr Mahathir will be accompanied by Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Darell Leiking, along with senior officials from both ministries.
Dr Mahathir is expected to arrive at the Bulwagang Kalayaan Villamor airport today. He will be accorded the highest honour of laying the wreath at the Rizal monument in Rizal Park before attending an official welcome ceremony at the Malacañang Palace tomorrow.
Both leaders will discuss political, economic and people-to-people cooperation, apart from exchanging views on topics of mutual importance during the three-day visit.
After his meeting with Duterte, Dr Mahathir will meet with Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Rizany Irwan said Dr Mahathir is also expected to lead a Malaysia-Philippines business forum that will be attended by members of the business community and officials from both countries.
Rizani Irwan added that Malaysia’s total trade with the Philippines has seen a significant growth in the past few years. In 2018, the total trade recorded a growth of 8.8%, amounting to US$6.45 billion (RM26.25 billion) from US$5.93 billion in 2017.
Exports grew by 8.4% to US$4.19 billion, while imports expanded by 8.7% to US$2.27 billion in 2018.
The Philippines is Malaysia’s fourth- largest trading partner among Asean countries, and 15th-largest trading partner in the world.
Rizany Irwan added that the visit is also expected to add momentum after the Philippines held its plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law on Jan 21 and Feb 6, 2019.
Malaysia has been a staunch supporter of the Mindanao Peace Process and is honoured to play a constructive role as the third-party facilitator in the peace process to ensure greater safety and stability in the Philippines and the region.
Prior to this year’s official visit to the Philippines, Dr Mahathir undertook bilateral official visits to the country in 1987 and 1994, which was during his previous term as PM.
Dr Mahathir’s visit to the Philippines would reciprocate Duterte’s working visit to KL in July 2018. The previous meeting between Dr Mahathir and Duterte took place a day after they watched the boxing fight between Manny Pacquiao and Argentinian Lucas Matthysse in KL.