DEEPER TIES WITH SRI LANKA. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. delivers his speech at Sri Lanka's 72nd Independence Day celebration on Wednesday night (Feb. 5, 2020). Locsin announced that ties between the countries will mark another milestone with the opening of the Philippine Embassy in Colombo this year. (PNA photo by Joyce Rocamora)

MANILA -- Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has vowed to pursue deeper Philippines and Sri Lanka ties as he congratulated the South Asian nation on its 72nd Independence Day.

Locsin, in a reception hosted by the Sri Lankan Embassy on Wednesday night, underscored the expanding relations between the two states since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1961.

"The friendship between the Philippines and Sri Lanka and our people have grown stronger through six decades of diplomatic ties," he said in his speech.

"I take this opportunity to reiterate my personal commitment and that of my government to continue fostering deeper ties between the Philippines and Sri Lanka," he added.

The two nations last year inked at least five agreements in the field of defense, tourism, education, and agriculture when Sri Lanka's former president Maithripala Sirisena visited Manila.

Since then, engagements between Manila and Colombo had evidently increased as reflected in the historic stop of two Philippine Navy ships bound for the Middle at the latter's East Container Terminal late January.

READ: PH ships for Mideast mission makes historic stop in Sri Lanka

The two Navy ships, the offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) and the landing vessel BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602), left Pier 13 of Manila South Harbor on January 13 to help in the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers affected by the tensions in the Middle East.

This year, Locsin said the Philippine-Sri Lanka ties will be marked with another milestone with the opening of the Philippine Embassy in Colombo.

On tourism, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Manila, for its part, said it will actively attract Filipinos to visit its country.

Prior to its Independence Day reception, several tour operators from Sri Lanka and at least 60 local travel agents met in Makati to discuss possible tour packages that can be offered for Filipinos.

Based on statistics provided by the Embassy, the number of Filipino tourists to Sri Lanka has grown from 11,160 in 2014 to at least 19,303 in 2018.

The Embassy boasts of the island for its misty mountains, golden beaches, unique wildlife, as well as a rich cultural heritage that dates back to more than 3,000 years.

Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule in 1948. (PNA)