Timor-Leste leader backs rules-based approach in West Philippine Sea

Helen Flores – The Philippine Star

November 11, 2023 | 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Timor-Leste is backing the Philippines’ “rules-based approach” in dealing with disputes in the West Philippine Sea, President Marcos said yesterday as he hosted a bilateral meeting with Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta at Malacañang.

At a joint press briefing following a bilateral meeting, Marcos thanked Ramos-Horta for supporting the country’s position.

“With the experience of his excellency in international affairs, the many suggestions and mechanisms that he brought to light that can be of use to the Philippines when it comes to the challenges that we are presently facing in the issues regarding the South China Sea or as we refer to it, the West Philippine Sea,” Marcos said.

“That is why it is with gratitude that we also have received the expressions of support from the President for the Philippines in terms of the rules – our adherence to a rules-based international law, to UNCLOS,” Marcos said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The experience of the President has shown what the Philippines can do to further our discussion and our argument as to the continued adherence of all partners to a rules-based system and international law,” he said.

In his opening statement at their bilateral meeting, Ramos-Horta said the Philippines and Timor-Leste share a long history of solidarity and support for each other. He said the Philippines has been at the forefront in the critical years of 1999 when the then East Timor was seeking independence from Indonesia.

“You dispatched to Timor-Leste, with other countries in the region like Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and others under the Security Council mandate, so the Philippines was very prominent there through the beginning of our independence,” Ramos-Horta said.

During a state banquet hosted by Marcos, the Timor-Leste leader thanked the Philippine government’s valuable assistance in terms of defense, education, trade and fisheries that he said left a very positive impact on the lives of the Timorese and fostered “a spirit of solidarity and friendship” between the two countries.  

Safety net

The Philippines and Timor-Leste agreed on Friday to work together on the establishment of a Bilateral Social Security Agreement that would provide a safety net for both Filipino and Timor-Leste professionals.

As of February, there are an estimated 1,480 Filipinos in Timor-Leste. Last year, remittances from Filipino workers there reached $271,000. 

“We should like to also explore the possibilities of having direct flights between our capitals through an Air Services Agreement and also establish a Bilateral Social Security Agreement to be a safety net for both our country’s professionals working in each other’s country,” Marcos said.

The two leaders, meanwhile, decided to reconvene policy consultations to further the relations between the two nations, including strengthening educational cooperation and increasing student exchanges.

Marcos said the consultations are “to be hosted by Timor-Leste in the near future.” The Philippines also vowed assistance in the skills formation of the Timorese people. 

Asean membership

Marcos also reaffirmed the Philippines’ support for Timor-Leste’s membership bid in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, citing the adoption of the Roadmap for Timor-Leste’s Full Membership in ASEAN during the regional bloc’s 42nd Summit in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia in May. Timor-Leste joined the 42nd ASEAN Summit as an observer.

ASEAN is composed of the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ramos-Horta said the Philippines was among the very first countries to support his country’s aspiration to join ASEAN.

“We are now working round the clock to fulfill, implement milestones, and we feel confident that we could join a place between myself and our Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, we have established for ourselves 2025, we should be ready to fully be a member of ASEAN,” he said.

The Philippines and Timor-Leste established formal diplomatic relations on May 20, 2002.

Last year, Timor-Leste ranked as the Philippines’ 171st trading partner. It is the country’s 158th export market and 194th import supplier.


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