Channel NewsAsia

President Aquino urges Malaysian businesses to invest in Mindanao

Visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino has urged Malaysian businesses to invest in the poverty-stricken region of Mindanao to tap the growing potential of the resource-rich southern province.

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino has urged Malaysian businesses to invest in the poverty-stricken region of Mindanao to tap the growing potential of the resource-rich southern province.

His visit comes as the Philippine government is preparing to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with a key Muslim liberation group, to try and end decades of violence in the region.

On his first official visit to Malaysia, Mr Aquino expressed his gratitude for Malaysia's role in brokering the peace talks which, after 18 years, have finally delivered an outcome.

As the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front prepare to sign the peace treaty in the coming weeks paving the way for disarmament in the south, Mr Aquino wants Malaysia to continue to play a role, investing in a region that's rich in mineral and agricultural resources.

Mr Aquino said: "On behalf of my countrymen, please accept my sincerest gratitude. 'Terima Kasih', or maraming salamat (thank you). Malaysia can also further contribute to the development of our Land of Promise, by encouraging their businesses to invest in Mindanao.

"We also invite Malaysia to work with us in developing the Philippine palm oil industry, among other sub-industries in agriculture. This is an area that aims to open more doors of opportunity for growth for both our peoples."

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak reciprocated keen interest in increased investment in the Philippines' fast-growing economy, even after the devastation wreaked by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Mr Najib said: "There's a lot more we can do, between our two countries. We both agree on this that while our bilateral trade is at about US$4.5 billion, given the size of the Philippines, we believe that the potential is far greater than that. I'm confident that as a result of this discussion and this visit, that the bilateral trade will be on an upward trend."

Malaysia has asserted that a peaceful and prosperous southern Philippines would help stop the perennial influx of illegal immigrants into Malaysia, and boost trade and investment in the eastern most state of Sabah.

The contentious issue of territorial disputes in Sabah, however, remain off the table in the leaders' meetings.

Mr Najib said Malaysia is ready to train the people in the south by offering its expertise in Islamic banking and finance, as well as in halal industries.

The pledge comes despite the continued risk of violence by insurgents committed to de-railing the peace plan.

To beef up security, Malaysia also suggested the setting up of an intelligence exchange hotline between both countries' armed forces to deter criminal activities.

Both leaders also agreed to adhere to the international rule of law in the South China Sea, and that conflict should be resolved in the spirit of ASEAN solidarity and cohesiveness. 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna