MANILA, Jan. 29 -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and Philippine President Fidel Ramos on Sunday participated in a foundation-laying ceremony for a Malaysian designed car manufacturing joint venture in Pangasinan, 130 miles (208 km) north of Manila. The ceremony was the highlight of Mahathir's two-day, unofficial visit to the Philippines. 'My visit here is not only to bring in a factory, but more importantly, to usher in an industry,' the Malaysian leader said at the ceremony. 'An automotive industry, backed with several automotive components manufacturing, will certainly contribute toward's Pangasinan's economic growth, creating more job opportunities for the people here.' Proton Pilipinas Corp. is building a 2.2-billion-peso ($89.9 million) manufacturing plant in the town of Alaminos in Pangasinan province -- Ramos' hometown. The firm expects to turn out 20 cars daily once commercial production begins, and increase this to 40 cars a day later. The production of the Proton cars in the Philippines will be the first project under the the Asean Industrial Joint Venture Program. 'This ceremony today marks a historic event for both our countries,' Mahathir said. 'For Malaysia, this plant will enable us to share with you the technology behind the fastest-selling new make of car...the Proton. And for the Philippines, the plant provides a strong testament to Malaysia's faith in your country's effort towards industrialization,' Mahathir said. 'Let our countries continue to grow together and let Proton symbolize the new beginning of brotherhood and cooperation between our peoples,' he added.
The two leaders visited the plant site Sunday to inspect the facility, the first Proton Wira plant outside Malaysia. The Philippine presidentthanked the Malaysian prime minister, saying the occasion was an affirmation of the strong partnership for progress between the two countries. Ramos said the joint project 'will spearhead industrialization in this part of Luzon by giving our countrymen greater opportunities for employment and technology transfer through a hi-tech export enterprise under the AIJV program.' Ramos also directed the country's Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Energy to lead government agencies in implementing measures that would ensure the establishment of ancillary industries for the production of engines, transmissions and other automotive components. The Proton Wira is claimed to be the most popular car in Malaysia, selling a record 94,300 units in 1993, a 28 percent increase from the previous year. Strong demand for the car prompted its Malaysian manufacturer to almost double production from an initial target of 80,000 units to 150, 000 cars a year. The visit was Mahathir's second to the Philippines. He gave Ramos a Proton Wira luxury model during his state visit to the Philippines in February last year.