Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday invited Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte to visit his country as the first Philippine leader to ever do so.
“I would like to extend to Your Excellency and Madam Cielito an invitation to undertake a State Visit to Sri Lanka at an early date. This would be equally historic as it would be the first ever State Visit undertaken by a Philippine leader,” Sirisena said in his toast remarks during the state banquet hosted by Duterte.
Sirisena said he wanted to replicate the Duterte administration’s aggressive campaign against crime and drugs.
“Excellency, the war against crime and drugs carried out by you is an example to the whole world, and personally to me,” Sirisena said. “Drug menace is rampant in my country and I feel that we should follow your footsteps to control this hazard.”
Sirisena said he was also impressed by Duterte’s leadership, which he described as having “led the nation on a road to prosperity, sustaining economic growth, launching and building critical infrastructure, generating employment and securing Philippines people-centric foreign policy effectively.”
The Sri Lankan leader said that he was “deeply honored” to undertake the visit to the Philippines as the first ever Head of State from Sri Lanka.
He recalled how he first visited the Philippines as Deputy Minister of Irrigation in 1996 and again in 2007 and 2008 as Minister of Agriculture.
“I had the opportunity of visiting the International Rice Research Institute, the leading research and educational institute dedicated for the welfare of rice farmers. I visited the beautiful Mindanao island and also Your Excellency’s hometown Davao witnessing the extensive banana plantations,” he added.
Sirisena, meanwhile, expressed hope that discussions between the two countries will lay firm foundation for enhanced bilateral relations in all spheres.
He raised a toast for Duterte’s good health and continued success.
Duterte, who delivered his toast remarks before Sirisena, recalled how the Sri Lankan leader’s interests have broadened after he has visited the Philippines “several times and at several points”.
“On his return trip today from the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ to the Pearl of the Orient Seas’, President Sirisena’s interests have clearly broadened, and his appreciation for the importance of Philippines-Sri Lanka ties greatly heightened,” Duterte said.
Duterte expressed hope that his return trip will give him and other Sri Lankans more reasons to visit the Philippines.
He said aside from looking back at both countries’ shared past, it was just as important to look forward to a future of deepening of ties; trade and investments; defense and security; agriculture; tourism; education; culture; and people-to-people exchanges.
The five agreements signed between the two countries, he said, indicate their governments’ resolve to reinvigorate ties.
“We are planting the seeds of relations that promise to grow in the coming years. We nurture these seeds to ensure that generations after us will harvest the fruits of greater peace, progress and prosperity,” Duterte said.
“I firmly believe that, with the shared commitment expressed earlier today, we are well on our path to greater reality of these goals,” he added.
Sirisena arrived on Tuesday evening for a five-day state visit, making him the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit the Philippines.
This week, he is scheduled to visit the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Laguna. (PNA)