last-minute change of Agenda? Arroyo and Bokiah troop the lineMalacanang, Jan. 28, 2003 (Regina Bengco, Malaya) - President Arroyo and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam yesterday reaffirmed their desire to expand relations and help address regional and international challenges that affect their nations.

Bolkiah arrived in Malacaņang at 9:25 a.m. and was accorded formal arrival honors in front of the Kalayaan Hall.

In a joint statement, the two leaders emphasized the importance of bilateral, regional and international cooperation in fighting terrorism.

An item in the prepared joint statement relating to the Iraqi situation, however, was deleted upon the request of the foreign affairs department.

Item No.12 said: "(The two leaders) exchanged views on vital regional and international issues and expressed the hope that parties concerned with the situation in Iraq would exhaust all diplomatic and peaceful means in addressing the issue. They looked forward to the report of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission to the UN Security Council with the hope that the issue would be resolved in the interest of world peace."

The foreign affairs department did not say why it wanted the particular item to be deleted.

Arroyo and Bolkiah agreed that the Memorandum on Understanding on Defense Cooperation signed in Brunei in August 2001 outlined a number of activities that would enhance bilateral defense activities.

They also looked forward to the convening of the first joint working committee which will be held either in Brunei or the Philippines.

They also agreed to conduct a joint naval exercise that would take place in Brunei in April.

Arroyo and Bolkiah witnessed the signing of the Agreement on Merchant Shipping and Related Matters to promote the efficiency of maritime transport.

They also expressed satisfaction with the progress on the proposed Memoranda of Understanding on Academic Cooperation in Higher Education and on Tourism Cooperation, which they intend to sign soon.

The two leaders said the MOU on tourism would bring about better awareness and more tourist arrivals for both countries.

They expressed hope that the MOU on academic cooperation in higher education would further broaden mutual cooperation in the field of education and expand people-to-people relations.

They reiterated the need to convene the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation to plan, monitor, and implement the wide range of areas of cooperation between their countries.

They welcomed the recent agreement by their foreign ministers to convene the inaugural meeting of the joint commission as soon as possible, to be preceded by a senior officials' meeting by the first half of this year.

They also reaffirmed interest in a collaboration on information and communications technology, in view of significant developments in Brunei's ICT sector and agreed to explore ways in which Filipino expertise may be tapped.

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