Toast by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch hosted by HE Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Malacanang Palace, 10 Dec 2004

10 Dec 2004

President Arroyo
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am happy to be in Manila today. I am touched by the kind hospitality shown to me and my delegation, in spite of the difficult period that the Philippines is now going through. Singapore is fortunately sheltered from typhoons, so we may never quite fully appreciate the impact of such a natural disaster. But what is evident to us is the fortitude and resilience of the Filipinos. We watched the news coverage, and could see how Filipinos are banding together, and helping their fellow countrymen during hard times.

2. Singapore has been fortunately to benefit from the courage of the Filipino people. Last year, during the outbreak of SARS, many health workers in Singapore risked their lives to care for those stricken by the illness. One of them was the late Mr Jonnel Pabuayon Pinera, who succumbed to the deadly virus while nursing SARS patients. For his courage and selfless dedication, Mr Pabuayon was awarded the Medal of Valour. Many other talented Filipinos live and work in Singapore, including bankers, nurses, architects, designers and educators. They add vibrancy and diversity to Singapore's multi-ethnic society.

3. I am therefore happy to visit Manila, to renew our old friendship and close ties. I have already met President Arroyo several times since becoming Prime Minister in August this year - first at ASEM in Hanoi, then APEC in Santiago, then the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, and now my introductory visit to the Philippines. These personal contacts between leaders help to strengthen the ties between our countries, which are based on shared interests and the potential for mutual cooperation. As fellow members of ASEAN, our two countries share many such interests.

4. The purpose of the Philippines-Singapore Action Plan is to continue to strengthen our friendship. It is a useful mechanism to sustain cooperation across a wide spectrum of areas. My predecessor, Mr Goh Chok Tong, started the Action Plan with President Fidel Ramos. Together, they constructed a strong foundation, which I hope to continue to build upon with President Arroyo.

5. For example, in tourism, there is scope for co-operation. Philippines offer much potential. Cebu is one of the most beautiful places in our region. Singapore and Manila are only 3.5 hours apart by air. If we set our minds to it, the day will come when tourists from all over the world will "island hop" in Southeast Asia, jumping from Singapore to Phuket, Bali, and the numerous beautiful islands in the Philippines.

6. Our collaboration extends beyond economics. There is an on-going art exhibition (entitled "Crossings") at the Ayala Museum showcasing 32 exquisite pieces of art by 27 prominent Filipino artists. What is unique is that these artworks are part of the collection of Southeast Asian art from the Singapore Art Museum.

7. I look forward to closer ties between the Philippines and Singapore. I appreciate the candid exchange of views and constructive discussion in the morning. As original members of ASEAN, Singapore and the Philippines share a good appreciation of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and the vital ingredients to ensure regional security and economic integration. As Asia changes, our countries should stay ahead of the curve, exploring bold ways to promote trade for mutual benefit and to encourage greater interaction and understanding.

8. May I invite everyone to join me in a toast to the continued good health and success of Her Excellency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Attorney Jose Miguel Arroyo, and to the close bonds of friendship between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Singapore.

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