President Rodrigo Roa Duterte accompanies Republic of Singapore President Halimah Yacob as she is accorded foyer honors upon her arrival at the Malacañan Palace on September 9, 2019. REY BANIQUET/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

As endorsed by Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob, during her recent 5-day state tour of the Philippines, there are a host of opportunities for engagement and collaboration in terms of human capital, innovation and infrastructure, not just in the mega-cities but also in the provinces

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his partner Honeylet Avanceña welcome Republic of Singapore President Halimah Yacob and her spouse Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee prior to the start of the state banquet at the Malacañan Palace on September 9, 2019. ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

SINGAPORE’S President Halimah Yacob’s 5-day state visit to Philippines zeroed in on many aspects of the ties between the two nations, while at the same time drawing attention to the opportunities of deeper engagement with regard to business, infrastructure development and people-to-people connectivity.

During the course of the visit in which President Halimah Yacob also met Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila; she later did a quick side trip to his home city of Davao in Mindanao. Mdm Yacob pointed out that as founding members of ASEAN, the two countries’ close ties, resulting in public and private collaboration, are ultimately about raising the quality of life for people in the region. In her view the two nations have opportunities to collaborate in human capital development, innovation and infrastructure, not just in the megacities but also in the provinces. “I think that our businesses which have niche core capabilities in the areas of sustainable town development, urban development will find opportunities, particularly in the areas of smart city, waste management, water supply and other areas related to urban town development,” she said. In his opening remarks during a meeting between Singapore and Philippines officials, President Duterte spoke of the inspirational role of Singapore and admitted there is much to learn from the island-state.

Muslim Mindanao & Davao
The southern Philippine islands of Mindanao are home to dozens of tribes and to most of the Muslim population in the Philippines, a country where 80 per cent are Roman Catholics. Located here is Davao, the hometown of President Duterte, to which he invited Madam Halimah and her husband Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee. They were greeted at the airport by the hypnotic sounds of tribal rhythms rendered by beautifully costumed performers. Visibly pleased by this welcome she said that it was a delightful showcase of the diversity of the country’s southern region rarely visited by many heads of state has set foot.  Madam Halimah is the third head of state to visit Mindanao since Mr Duterte took power, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2017. “Diversity is also something that teaches us tolerance, teaches us magnanimity, and teaches us understanding … It makes you a better human being. And it makes the whole society better,” she said.

While interacting with Mindanaoan youths of different religious backgrounds, Madam Halimah encouraged them and stressed upon the need for engagement as a counter ignorance and prejudice. “A society is fragile if one group views another as a threat. It is important to overcome the forces of division, and build bridges instead of walls,” she said.

During his meeting with Madame Halimah, President Rodrigo Duterte in reference to the Bangsamoros, Muslim natives in the country’s south and the greater autonomy after a law resulting from a peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group was ratified, shared that the ratification of this law that is seen to help end decades-long conflict and open up the region to outside investments. Speaking at a joint press conference President Duterte said: “It was my pleasure to share with President Yacob our gains in peace and development in Mindanao, particularly our progress in establishing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.” He also shared that they had discussed ways by which their cooperation could help contribute in bringing just and lasting peace and meaningful progress and development in Mindanao.

During her visit to Davao City, Madame Halimah enjoyed her tour of the Philippine Eagle Center where she encountered the Philippine Eagle, a critically endangered bird of prey, which is an important part of the Philippines wildlife heritage and is known to only lay a single egg every two years. Its numbers are diminishing due to the clearing of forests that continue to destroy their habitat. It is only found in the Philippines. As part of a conservation and breeding programme a pair of Philippines Eagles is on a 10-year loan to Singapore.


President Rodrigo Roa Duterte accompanies Republic of Singapore President Halimah Yacob as she signs the guest book upon her arrival at the Malacañan Palace on September 9, 2019. KING RODRIGUEZ/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Business Agenda
A focal point of President Halimah’s visit was Singapore corporations and enterprises in the Philippines as also its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to venture and expand in the Philippines.During the course of the state visit eight memoranda of understanding were exchanged between the Philippines and Singapore covering the sectors of agri-tech, water management and electricity supply in rural areas, arts and culture, data protection, and training people for the next industrial revolution.

President Halimah was also invited to inaugurate the opening of The Podium, an office and retail complex in Metro Manila developed by Singapore and Philippine firms Keppel Land and BDO Unibank. Keppel Land CEO Tan Swee Yiow on the occasion said that: “We also like to see more integrated mixed use development happening in Philippines. This is applying the concept that we learned in our Singapore Marina Bay financial centres where we incorporate office, residences and retail together so that’s fulfilling the live, work, play scenarios.”

Madam Halimah shared that: “There is a strong consumer demand for goods and services. Our Singapore brand – in terms of our products and services – do have a reputation, largely also because we have a large Filipino community in Singapore. They have had opportunities to try out our Singapore brand, and they like it.” Its interesting to note that Singapore was the Philippines’ largest foreign investor among Southeast Asian countries and the second largest worldwide last year. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew by 18.6 per cent compared with the previous year. Madam Halimah also shared her hopes of seeing progress in two particular areas – updating an existing agreement to avoid double taxation, as well as expanding a bilateral air transport deal.

Golden Jubilee Ties
Madam Halimah also took time out to pay her respects with flowers to the late Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, the novelist who believed in the power of words to help liberate the Southeast Asian nation from colonial powers.

The above article and photos first appeared in Partner Philippines 2019 Golden Jubilee Edition. Click here to read the whole issue.