CRITICIZED at home for her stalled reform program in Chile, socialist President Michelle Bachelet was greeted with state honors on Monday as she began a state visit aimed at boosting economic ties across the Pacific Ocean and marking its almost 70-year diplomatic relation with the Philippines.
The 64-year-old Bachelet, who will also be attending next week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, was officially received Monday morning at Malacañang Palace where she also signed two agreements on expanding bilateral trade and cooperating on disaster risk reduction and management.
“In order to take the first step, today we signed a letter of intent in which we commit ourselves to conclude a feasibility joint study to evaluate potential benefits of a free trade agreement,” Bachelet said, adding that negotiation will likely start early next year.
“The relation between Chile in the Philippines is the oldest diplomatic tie that we have had with a member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” she said.
“On July 4, 2016, we will celebrate 70 years of relation between both nations and this visit has been an excellent opportunity to deepen our ties and establish a substantial work agenda in the bilateral and multilateral areas,” said Bachelet.
“Separated though we may be by the vast Pacific Ocean, the Philippines and Chile have enjoyed warm relations for almost 70 years,” President Benigno Aquino III said after the signing of the pacts.
“Chile and the Philippines have a common experience of facing the challenges of being newly restored democracies, after our peoples reclaimed their liberties and rebuilt their institutions, towards becoming truly vibrant democracies,” Aquino said.
The trade agreement hopes to build on the ongoing partnership between the Philippines’ Energy Development Corp. and Canadian-based Alterra Power Corp. that is helping develop geothermal energy sources in Chile.
Aquino said exploration in geothermal energy can only redound to the benefit of the two countries by contributing to the energy requirements and enhancing the common body of expertise the countries share.
“We are hopeful that this will only encourage more and further business activities between our countries,” Aquino said.
Aquino said he and Bachelet also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on disaster risk reduction and management, which aims to institutionalize cooperation between the two countries.
Aquino said the Philippine embassy in Santiago was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy and assistance from Chileans after Typhoon “Yolanda” and Manila also displayed its solidarity with Chileans in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in north-central Chile.
Bachelet is also scheduled to speak at the Fourth National Women’s Summitat the Miriam College on Wednesday.
A known women’s rights advocate, Bachelet is a former official of a UN agency for women’s concerns and was elected on two separate occasion as president of Chile.
Her election to presidency in 2006 made her the first woman president in her country. After her stint as president from 2006 to 2010, she was appointed as the first executive director of the UN United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
After her UN stine, Bachelet, a physician, was again elected president in March last year, making her the first person to win the presidency of Chile twice in elections.
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