TACLOBAN, Philippines - President Tony Tan Keng Yam wound up his first state visit to the Philippines with a reaffirmation of closer "people-to-people ties" between Singaporeans and Filipinos.
"This visit has enabled me to reaffirm these strong people-to- people linkages between our two countries," Dr Tan said at a news briefing yesterday.
There is already "deep kinship" between Singaporeans and Filipinos, he said, as seen in the outpouring of grief among Singaporeans and their quick response when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck in November last year. Haiyan, the strongest typhoon in recorded history, left at least 6,200 dead and displaced some 300,000 people in the central Philippines.
Soon after the typhoon, Singapore sent two C-130s that flew relief missions twice a day.
Last Friday, Dr Tan presented more than $7 million in donations from Singaporeans to partners of Singapore Red Cross helping some 1.5 million victims of Haiyan.
Dr Tan capped his state visit by turning over medical equipment, medicines and other assistance to a district hospital in Samar, one of the provinces that bore the brunt of Haiyan's fury.
Haiyan shut down the hospital in Basey town but it reopened its doors five months later. The hospital provides health services to around 200,000 people living in Basey and two other towns in Samar, Marabut and Sta Rita.
Dr Rutchie Jordan-Egos, the hospital's administrator, said 30 to 40 patients are warded there at any given time and its outpatient unit receives about 70 patients each day. She said she expects the hospital's capacity to grow from 25 beds to 35 by mid-next month with assistance from Singapore.
Dr Tan told reporters after visiting Basey hospital that rebuilding "is a long-term effort".
"It's not going to be a one-off effort," he said. "It will take many more years, and I would say that looking around, driving here, I'm very impressed by the resilience of the Filipino people despite all the devastation which they have incurred," he said.
In his meetings with Philippine President Benigno Aquino last week, Dr Tan reaffirmed the closer "people-to-people ties" that he said would push bilateral ties between the Philippines and Singapore.
Dr Tan acknowledged the sizeable community of Filipinos in Singapore, and the "crucial role" they play.
On his part, Mr Aquino thanked Singapore "for the hospitality you have extended to around 180,000 Filipinos who have found another home in Singapore - all of whom advance our two countries' desire for mutual progress".
Dr Tan said he expects a new air services agreement between Singapore and the Philippines to bring Singaporeans and Filipinos even closer.
The agreement will increase air services capacity between the Philippines and Singapore by 25 per cent. There are now 157 flights a week that link the two countries.
Summing up the results of his state visit, Dr Tan said: "Overall, I would assess the visit as being an excellent one. I have renewed ties with people whom I have known for many years. I've met many new friends here."
"Strong people-to-people ties," he added, "will serve as a foundation for Singapore and the Philippines to deepen cooperation in many areas, whether the economic field, cultural field or social field."
This article was published on April 6 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.