Manila asks for more Brunei peace monitors
By M K Anwar

Brunei Darussalam has pledged to increase its contingent in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that currently oversees the peace process being implemented in Mindanao. This was revealed yesterday following a bilateral meeting held at Bahay Pangarap or House of Hope at the Malacanang.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam was earlier welcomed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Malacanang Palace in Manila.

Also accompanying His Majesty were Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha and Her Royal Highness Pengiran Isteri Arinaz Mazhar.

During the welcoming ceremony national anthems of both countries were played with a guard of honour from the First Guard Company of the Presidential Guards.

His Majesty later consented to inspect the parade.

His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Malik, Her Royal Highness Princess Hjh Rashidah and HRH Princess Hjh Masna and other members of the royal family were also at the welcoming ceremony.

From the Malacanang, the visiting monarch moved to Bahay Pangarap for a signing of the guest book and later a courtesy call on the President and husband.

The bilateral meeting which followed after the courtesy call was attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs II, Pehin Dato Lim Jock Seng, the Deputy Minister of Defence, Pehin Dato Singamanteri Col (Rtd) Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yasmin and the Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General Dato Paduka Seri Hj Awang Halbi.

The significance of the meeting highlighted the growing relations between Brunei and the Philippines. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

At the meeting, the two leaders underlined the increasing close and friendly relations between the two countries. In the joint press statement released after the meeting, the two leaders welcomed the encouraging progress in defence, education and agricultural cooperation between the two countries. The two leaders expressed commitment to foster closer cooperation between the two countries. The two leaders also discussed regional issues of mutual interest and concern such as Asean and BIMP-EAGA.

With Brunei being a second home to more than 20,000 Filipino workers, the bilateral meeting also focused on this especially, at a time when many offshore Filipino workers had to be let off around the world due to the global economic uncertainty.

His Majesty reportedly said that Brunei would continue to welcome Filipino workers.

On the Brunei participation in the IMT, its contingent will be increased from the current 10 to a much stronger 30 personnel after its current mandate expires. This was confirmed by the Philippines Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, Esteban Conejos. Brunei has been part of the IMT since 2004 and 10 new personnel were sent for the IMT last year.

There has been indications here about Brunei one day heading the IMT.

The bilateral talks yesterday also touched on the possibility of getting technical assistance from the Philippines in helping improve Brunei rice production.

After the bilateral talks, His Majesty went to Rizal Park for a Wreath Laying Ceremony. This national monument was built in honour of one of the Philippine National heroes, Dr Jose Rizal. The monument is guarded 24 hours a day and seven days a week by those who are called the Knights of Rizal. Welcoming His Majesty was the Mayor of Manila, Mr Alfredo Lim. After the usual military honours, His Majesty placed a wreath at the monument as a 21-canon salute was fired.

Meanwhile in a separate engagement, Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hjh Saleha and HRH Pengiran Isteri Azrinaz Mazhar visited the Bio-Research, Fish, Birds and Butterfly Collection Facility. The president of this facility, Mr Wilson Y Ang and its CEOs, Mrs Nancy Ang and Miss Charlene Claire Ang welcomed the visiting royalty. - Borneo Bulletin (31st Jan 2009)