By Genalyn Kabiling
PORT MORESBY — Papua New Guinea is reportedly gripped by excitement about the first visit of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte here.
According to Philippine Ambassador to Papua New Guinea Bienvenido Tejano, it is not only the Filipino community that looks forward to Duterte’ historic visit but Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and other government leaders as well.
“Since their independence until now, there has never been a leader of the Philippines that has visited this country. You know, the visit of the President here not only to attend APEC but it is so important for the relationship of the two countries,” Tejano said in a media interview.
“In fact, the excitement here does not only involve the Filipino community even the Prime Minister himself. Every now and then when we meet, he would always ask me, ‘So make sure that President Duterte will come.’ I said, ‘He made a commitment, he always fulfills his commitment.’ So the country is excited,’” the ambassador added.
Last May, O’Neill visited the Philippines and held bilateral talks with Duterte to revitalize bilateral relations. The two leaders agreed to boost bilateral cooperation on agriculture, aquaculture, and agri-business development in a bid to help ensure food security.
Tejano said apart from the Prime Minister, other Papua New Guinea government officials have expressed enthusiasm in meeting the visiting Philippine leader. He noted that Port Moresby governor Powes Parkop has even described Duterte as his idol.
“I have met a lot of Cabinet members and several governors. In fact the city governor of Port Moresby, we just had a meeting the other day and he was saying, please give me a chance to shake hands with your President. I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘He’s my idol,'” he added.
President Duterte arrived in Port Moresby Friday morning, marking the first visit of a Philippine president. He is in the Pacific Island country to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The President arrived at the Jacksons International Airport at 6:05 a.m. and received a red-carpet welcome from Papua New Guinea officials.
Among those who welcomed the President were Papua New Guinea Chief of the Diplomatic Protocol Ambassador Morea Veratau, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Treasury Charles Abel, Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, APEC Minister Justin Tkatchenko, and Papua New Guinea Ambassador to the Philippines Nawi Bokuik.
On November 17, the President will join 20 other Pacific Rim leaders for the annual talks on regional trade concerns and issues including economic integration and digital trade.
Duterte is expected to convey his support for mechanisms that will empower micro, small and medium enterprises to take advantage of digital economy and bring their products and services overseas.
He will also express support for regional efforts to craft a new and inclusive post-2020 vision for APEC, that includes ensuring food security and advancing economic opportunities for women.
Duterte’s activities include attending the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) dialogue with the leader, APEC leaders’ dialogue with Pacific Island leaders, and APEC dialogue with the International Monetary Fund.
He is expected to return to the country Sunday night.