London (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - He will miss Elizabeth II, the British queen, but he will have some time with Barack Obama, the US President, and with Jessica Sanchez, the half-Filipino "American Idol" singing sensation.
Leaving Manila Monday on his 15th foreign trip since he took office two years ago, Philippine President Benigno Aquino was expected to arrive in London Monday night (about 5 a.m. Tuesday, Manila time) at the start of a weeklong trip to the United Kingdom and the United States.
He was flying into London in the middle of royal festivities marking the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.
The royal pageantry for the queen's diamond jubilee started Sunday with what was touted as the biggest fluvial parade in London's history since the 17th century. The pageantry ends Tuesday with the queen's appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Unlike his predecessors, Gloria Arroyo and Fidel Ramos, who both met the queen during their visits here, Aquino would not be meeting with the 82-year-old monarch.
But the President will be meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday and with Elizabeth's son, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, on Thursday.
In the United States, Aquino will have a one-on-one with Obama. Before flying back home on June 10, he will also meet Sanchez, the petite singer who landed runner-up in this year's "American Idol" competition, Philippine Palace officials said.
"You can be sure of that in the seven days of my visits in the UK and the US, it's only the interest of the country which will be my main focus," Aquino said in his departure speech in Manila before boarding a chartered Philippine Airlines flight.
"(The UK) is one of our top European investors, our biggest market in tourism in Europe and one of our active partners in trade," he also said.
The 89-member presidential delegation includes 27 of the country's top business leaders, like Manny V. Pangilinan, Washington Sycip, Lance Gokongwei, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Enrique Razon Jr. and Teresita Sy.
Eight Cabinet ministers are traveling with the president. They include Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras and Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang.
Palace officials said Aquino's trip would cost 87.1 million pesos (US$2 million), covering accommodations, communication, transportation, food and equipment, among others. He is expected to return to Manila in time to lead the nation's June 12 Independence Day celebrations.
Philippine officials don't seem to mind that the President's visit comes at such a busy time for the British monarchy and government. He comes as a government guest, which means his British hosts are taking care of the expenses for his June 4-6 official visit, the officials said.
Aquino is expected to witness the signing of business agreements between leading British and Filipino companies.
"We are very proud that the President has chosen to visit the United Kingdom at a very historic moment during the queen's jubilee," Philippine Ambassador to the UK Enrique Manalo said.
"We're looking forward to a very successful visit and to bring our relationship with the UK to much greater heights," he said.
Manalo said the visit was timely because the UK considered the Philippines an "emerging power in Asia."
Talks with Cameron
He said Aquino and Cameron would discuss "wide-ranging issues."
"They will touch on trade and investments promotion, how to increase our economic relationships...They will also discuss the growth of our Filipino communities here and of course on regional issues perhaps...issues of the West Philippine Sea," Manalo said without elaborating.
On Tuesday, while the queen attends the diamond jubilee revelry, Aquino would be meeting with British and Philippine businessmen at Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel away from the spotlight.
"We expect signing of some very important business agreements, seven or eight companies be involved and I know that they will be covering such areas as renewable energy, gas, minerals, et cetera," Manalo said.
They include agreements between Rolls Royce and Cebu Pacific, Asea Gaz Asia Ltd. and Aboitiz Equity Ventures Gas Project, as well as with Shell and Nestl?. The embassy has yet to release details of the deals.
On Thursday, his last day in London, Aquino will have a meeting with Prince Andrew at Buckingham Palace.
Aquino will also be interviewed by the BBC network and meet with the Filipino community on Wednesday. At least 250,000 Filipinos work and live in the UK.
There will be no city tour for the president.
Instead, Aquino will do his share in attracting British tourists to the country's pristine beaches and famed diving spots. He and his Cabinet are to participate in a photoshoot featuring London cabs sporting the Department of Tourism's (DOT) "It's More Fun in the Philippines" ads.
Richard de Villa, technology and marketing officer of the DOT office, said there were 40 cabs carrying the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" sign around the streets of London.
President Aquino will also tour the Imperial War Museum.
Manalo described the UK as the Philippines' biggest tourism market in Europe. More than 100,000 British tourists visited the Philippines last year, he said.
From London, he will proceed to Washington for a three-day "working visit."
The president said in Manila he was looking forward to his meetings with Obama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US lawmakers.
"We will also review our current cooperation in terms of security so we can find out how to strengthen the capability of the Philippines as their ally in ensuring order in the Asia-Pacific region," he said.
Aquino said he would also meet with American businessmen "to tell them of our stand: Good governance result in a better economy and this can be seen in the good news coming from the Philippines today."
In both trips, he said he would not miss the chance of meeting with the Filipino communities.