PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd will not be joining world leaders attending the funeral services for former South African president Nelson Mandela on December 15.
Vice President Jejomar Binay will represent Aquino as sources said the President will fly to Japan later this week for the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-Japan commemorative anniversary.
Binay was scheduled to leave Monday night for South Africa.
“I will leave tonight to extend our sympathies to the people of South Africa on the passing of their revered leader, former president Nelson Mandela. The government and the people of the Philippines stand with them at this hour of their great loss,” Binay said.
At the 80th anniversary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Monday, Aquino confirmed that he will attend the Japan event from December 12 to 14. Mandela’s funeral rites will be until Sunday.
“The relationship between ASEAN and Japan is the focal point of the engagement. If there are other issues on a bilateral basis then . . . we are certainly open to discussions,” he said.
The President said the tension in the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippines is locked in a territorial row with China over the Spratly chain of islands, might be taken up in Japan.
“Anything that creates tension and instability is a concern for all, and everybody should be focused on maintaining a stable region,” Aquino said.
Raul Hernandez, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the President will seek also more aid when he meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week.
Aquino and Abe are expected to witness the signing of “exchanges of notes”, including a post-disaster standby loan worth about 10 billion yen ($100 million).
“During the meeting the two leaders will discuss cooperation on disaster management and reconstruction in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan,” Hernandez said.
In a statement earlier, Aquino joined the world in mourning the death of Mandela, who met the late President Corazon Aquino during a visit in Manila in 1997.
“On a more personal note, I recall with gratitude and humility the kind words he told me during his visit to the Philippines when I was still a representative. He told me then, ‘You chose your parents well.’ My mother admired him; like all of us, she would have been deeply saddened by his passing,” he said.
In March 1997, then President Mandela paid tribute to Aquino’s mother for her role in the restoration of democracy after Ferdinand Marcos.
At least 60 heads of state, including US President Barack Obama, have confirmed their attendance at the memorial events for the first black South African president,.
Obama will be joined by former US Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and their wives and 26 members of the US Congress.
British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the main memorial service on Tuesday, while Prince Charles will represent Britain at Sunday’s state funeral.
Some 80,000 people are expected to attend the event which will begin on Wednesday when Mandela’s body is brought to the Union Buildings where he held office as president between 1994 and 1999.
A funeral cortege carrying the icon’s remains will pass through the capital daily until Friday while the state funeral will take place in Mandela’s ancestral homeland of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.