Palace preps begin for Obama visit

MANILA, Philippines – Preparations for the official visit of US President Barack Obama have begun in Malacañang Palace, a week before the scheduled visit of the world leader, but Palace officials remained tightlipped on his final itinerary.

On Monday, April 21, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the final itinerary of Obama is still being discussed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with the US State Department.

But preparations in the Palace, he said, are ongoing, specifically for Obama's meeting with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang.

"The usual preparations are involved – protocol for events that will take place starting from when he arrives at the airport, and his transit from the airport to the event venues. Of course the Presidential Security Group is coordinating with the Secret Service," he said.

Coloma said Malacañang is also preparing for media coverage, and that the Palace's Media Accreditation and Relations Office is "making arrangements to assist the media contingent that will be joining the visit of their President."

"There are a lot of aspects involved in visits of any head of state or foreign dignitary and all these processes are ongoing as of the present," he said.

Obama is set to visit the Philippines on April 28 and 29. The visit is part of Obama's trip to 4 Asian nations. Aside from the Philippines, Obama is also visiting Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Aquino and Obama will discuss a range of bilateral issues including defense issues, trade, and the Philippines' membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Defense talks

Defense and security will be on top of the agenda during Obama and Aquino's meeting. The visit comes in the midst of the Philippines' territorial dispute with China.

Amid ongoing tensions in Ayungin Shoal, the Philippines and the United States are in the final stages of negotiating an enhanced defense deal that would give Americans wider access to Philippine military bases.

One of the expected activities during Obama's visit to the Philippines is the possible signing of the agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation between the two countries.

According to Coloma, the agreement has yet to be finalized and the Philippine panel is "undergoing inter-agency vetting from both sides," because the agreement will have implementation requirements and expectations from various government agencies.

"So it is important that they are also part of the process and of saying whether the provisions are legal," he said.

"There are implementing aspects that affect agencies of government across the executive department and we will have to get their sign off before we agree to the final draft of the agreement."

The Palace has denied rushing the agreement in time for Obama's visit. – Rappler.com