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Human rights spice up talks on cooperation

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during the ASEAN Canada 40th Anniversary Commemorative Summit on the sideline of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 14, 2017. -- AFP/POOL

THE PHILIPPINES capped its series of bilateral talks on Tuesday, Nov. 14, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit — with a state leader saying he brought up the delicate subject of human rights to a “receptive” President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

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The Philippines on the Duterte administration’s watch chairs this year’s summit, amid international condemnation of Mr. Duterte’s brutal drug campaign.

In a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he tackled Mr. Duterte over allegations of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Manila’s deadly drug war.

The Canadian prime minister’s Mr. Trudeau’s comments came the day after US President Donald J. Trump hailed the “great relationship” he enjoys with Mr. Duterte in a meeting the Philippine government said did not touch on human rights, although the White House said they had done so “briefly.”

“I also mentioned human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Manila, recounting his conversation with Mr. Duterte. “I impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law.”

Asked how Mr. Duterte responded, Mr. Trudeau said: “The president was receptive to my comments and it was throughout a very cordial and positive exchange.”

“This is something that is important to Canadians, and it’s important to the world and I will always bring that up,” Mr. Trudeau said, referring to human rights.

He added he offered support to Mr. Duterte “as a friend to help move forward on what is a real challenge.”

Mr. Trump, for his part, skipped the plenary session of a summit of East and Southeast Asian leaders in Manila on Tuesday because of scheduling delays, but he said his marathon trip to the region had been a success.

Mr. Trump left for home from the Philippines after a lunch with the other leaders, as meetings were running about two hours behind schedule. He told reporters on Air Force One that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend the plenary session in his place, a senior White House official said.

Mr. Trump said his trip had resulted in at least $300 billion, possibly triple that figure, of deals being agreed. He did not elaborate.

“We’ve explained that the United States is open for trade but we want reciprocal, we want fair trade for the United States,” he said.

Trade and concern about possible protectionism under Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda have come up during his visit to the region, which included stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam before concluding in the Philippines.

Despite Mr. Trump’s omitting human rights in his meeting with Mr. Duterte on Monday, their respective countries issued a joint statement on Tuesday that said in part the two sides “underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups.”

Bilateral talks between the Philippines and Russia focused on specific potential projects, as both countries discussed possible cooperation in transportation, including development assistance for the Northern Luzon railway and air travel between Manila and Moscow.

Assistant Secretary Leah V. Merida-Quiambao told reporters in a text message that DoTr Secretary Arthur P. Tugade and Russian Minister of Transport Maksim Sokolov met yesterday in Pasay City. Mr. Sokolov is part of the Russian delegation here in Manila.

The Philippines and Russia talked broadly about possible areas of cooperation, which can be pursued further through memoranda on partnerships in the future.

The two countries agreed to explore possible Russian development assistance for the Northern Luzon railway.

“Russia is expected to bring with it its development experience, gained in the course of building its 86,000-km of mainline and 60,000-km of secondary railway lines,” Ms. Quiambao said. The planned railway aims to extend connectivity to Northern Luzon, beyond the Manila-Clark Railway, with corridors in New Clark City to San Fernando in La Union, and Tarlac province to Tuguegarao City.

The Philippines and Russia also talked about possible utilization of Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), a Russian space-based satellite navigation system and an alternative to the global positioning system (GPS), for road emergency response, truck weight monitoring, and air navigation applications.

They also discussed possible deployment of Russian training vessels to the Philippines, a possible donation of a Russian training vessel, and exchange programs between the Philippine Merchant Maritime Academy (PMMA) and a Russian maritime academy.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Duterte discussed the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program in the Northeast Asian region and beyond, saying in part, “I can assure you that in the matter of the interest of your country and mine, we are supporting you against what North Korea is doing.” he said.

But the talks also dwelt significantly on economic and development programs between the two countries, with Messrs. Duterte and Abe witnessing “the exchange of notes (on) the Metro Manila Subway project, Arterial Road Bypass Project Phase 3, and (other) economic and social development program(s),” a statement by Malacañang said.

The statement further disclosed that Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Japan International Cooperation Agency Chief Representative in the Philippines Susumu Ito also had an exchange of loan agreement on (the) Cavite Industrial Area Flood Risk Management Project. Department of National Defense Undersecretary for Finance, Ammunitions, Installations and Materials Raymundo Elefante and Commissioner Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency Yoshiyuki Suzuki also signed an Amended Letter of Arrangement on the transfer of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force trainer aircraft TC-90s.

Mr. Duterte also had a chance to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, wherein the chief executive urged him for more investments from India, especially in the manufacture of goods.

Four agreements in the areas of defense and logistics cooperation, agriculture, micro, small, and medium enterprises, and for collaboration between the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Foreign Service Institute of Philippines were also signed.

On the other hand, Mr. Duterte’s bilateral meeting with Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in, focused on trade and investment, with the Philippine leader urging South Korean investments in manufacturing, automotive, food production, processing, agribusiness, electronics and energy.

He also expressed his gratitude to South Korea for its imports of Philippine products into South Korea, particularly in the areas of personal care and other organic products, food and seafood, garments and chemicals and other electronic parts.

For his part, South Korean President Moon expressed hopes that he could enhance Korea-ASEAN relations ‘to the highest level,’ noting that he dispatched a Special Envoy to ASEAN following his inauguration.

Mr. Moon, for his part, was quoted in a Palace statement as saying, “I wish to further strengthen our ties with the Philippines, our longtime friend.” He also “expressed hopes that he could enhance Korea-ASEAN relations ‘to the highest level,’ noting that he dispatched a Special Envoy to ASEAN following his inauguration,” the statement also said.

Mr. Moon also noted the “people-to-people” exchange of “about 1.5 million Korean tourists who visit the Philippines annually.”

People-to-people and other ties were also the theme of the Philippines’ talks with New Zealand, with Stephen England-Hall, chief executive of that country’s tourism department, saying in a press conference yesterday that he expects tourist arrivals between the Philippines and New Zealand to increase in a year with the launching of direct flights in December between Auckland and Manila.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Philippine Airlines and Tourism New Zealand. PAL will be launching in December thrice-a-week direct flights from Manila to Auckland. Previously, the flag carrier only flew to Auckland via Cairns, Australia.

New Zealand has been targeting the Southeast Asian market and considers the Philippines to be an emerging market, in particular, banking on families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and migrants, students and tourists who want to visit New Zealand. — AFP, Reuters, Rosemarie A. Zamora, Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo

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