Manila, Philippines --- The governments of Timor -Leste and the Philippines yesterday signed three bilateral agreements that would tap the assistance of the country in the fields of education, public works, and infrastructure maintenance, as well as policy consultations.
Timor-Leste Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmåo paid a courtesy call on President Benigno S. Aquino III in Malacañang, his first official visit to the country since he assumed his post in 2007. An expanded bilateral meeting was held following the courtesy call.
The government of Timor-Leste will always find a partner in the Filipino people, Aquino said, reaffirming the strong ties between the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
"As Timor-Leste endeavors for greater social reform, you would always find a partner in the Filipino people," Aquino said in a toast during the luncheon held in honor of the Timorese Prime Minister and his delegation.
He Aquino recalled that Gusmåo visited the Philippines 13 years ago, during the presidency of his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino.
"You had the opportunity to meet my mother who, like you, valued and fought for the promise of freedom. Back then, my mother shared with you the many difficulties my people experienced in order to restore democracy and justice in our country," Aquino said.
"Your visit came at an important time for both our nations. The Philippines was at a crucial juncture in its democratic history while Timor-Leste was treading the path to self governance and independence," he said.
"Today, you return to the Philippines that has undergone meaningful transformation: a transformation that has empowered our countrymen to take part in building a more just, more progressive stride," he added.
Aquino said the Philippines continues to support the application of Timor-Leste in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"We look forward to working more closely with you in the future in advancing regional dialogue, which we know will redound not only to the growth of our people and our countries, but will also contribute to the stability and continued development of our region," he said.
Prime Minister Gusmåo thanked the Philippine government for its support and confidence on Timor-Leste's bid to join the ASEAN.
"For your generous hospitality and support, you are a true friend of Timor-Leste," Gusmåo said.
The first agreement signed during his visit was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Policy Consultations between the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
The MOU seeks to establish a bilateral mechanism between the two Foreign Ministries based on the importance of dialogue and the exchange of views on the bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. The agreement also defines the cooperation between the two countries.
The agreement was signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and his counterpart, Jose Luis Gutterres, who earlier visited the Philippines in February.
The second agreement will tap the expertise of the Department of Public Works and Highways to enhance capacity building in Timor-Leste's Ministry of Public Works, particularly in the areas of infrastructure planning, quality control, and maintenance.
The MOU establishes a cooperative approach in assisting and mentoring in order to enhance capacity development in the Ministry of Public Works.
The MOU was signed by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and Timor-Leste Minister of Public Works Francisco de Sousa.
The third bilateral agreement taps the expertise of the Philippine Normal University in teacher training and capacity building of the education sector in Timor-Leste.
The agreement aims to develop a program for teachers and education officials of Timor-Leste on development and capacity building in various degrees, programs and specializations.
The MOU was signed by Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan and Timor-Leste Minister of Education Bendito dos Santos Freitas.
Meanwhile, Aquino expressed gratitude to Timor-Leste's assistance to the victims of typhoon "Pablo" last year, in which the Timorese government provided financial assistance amounting to $750,000.
The Philippines sent peacekeepers to Timor-Leste, whose mission ended in 2012.
Timor-Leste became a sovereign state in 2002 after Indonesia relinquished control over the territory.
Prime Minister Gusmåo's visit to the Philippines is part of his program to visit the ASEAN member-countries this year to strengthen bilateral and regional ties.