PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. may have been invited by superpowers like the United States and China to visit those countries, but he chose the country’s closest neighbors — Indonesia and Singapore — as his first state visits as president of the Republic.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Marcos will visit the two Asean countries next week — Indonesia starting September 4, then Singapore starting September 6. Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singapore President Halimah Yacob invited Marcos to visit their respective capitals.
“As close neighbors and founding members of ASEAN, the Philippines enjoys active engagement with both Indonesia and Singapore in terms of myriad areas including security and defense, trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges and more,” Ma. Teresa Daza, DFA spokesperson, said in a briefing to Palace and DFA reporters. “For these reasons, the President has decided to accept the invitation to visit Indonesia followed by Singapore for his inaugural overseas trip.”
Marcos and Widodo will meet Monday and will discuss a myriad of bilateral issues including cooperation on defense, maritime, border, economic, and people-to-people exchanges.
“The President’s state visit to Indonesia seeks to solidify the close political, diplomatic ties between Manila and Jakarta. Indonesia is also the largest economy and country in ASEAN and has the largest population and market offering great potential for further economic engagement. The Philippines and Indonesia also are fellow archipelagic states, sharing an extensive porous border and are close partners in maritime cooperation, having concluded a landmark agreement on exclusive economic zone, boundary delimitation in 2014 and currently negotiating the delimitation of other continental shelf boundaries,” Daza explained.
Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is the current President of the G-20, a strategic multilateral grouping of major developed and emerging economies. It is also the incoming Chair of ASEAN next year.
Besides bilateral issues, Marcos and Widodo will also exchange views on major issues affecting the region and the world such as the South China Sea disputes, the global pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War.
During the state visit, the two Presidents will witness the signing of three agreements, i.e. a five-year Action Plan to enhance bilateral cooperation, renewal of a defense cooperation, and cultural cooperation.
The foreign ministers of both countries are expected to sign the PHL-Indonesia Plan of Action, a comprehensive document on bilateral commitments in areas of cooperation including security and defense, border management, counter-terrorism, economy, energy, maritime affairs, culture, education, labor, health, and consular matters.
The Philippine and Indonesian defense chiefs, meanwhile, will renew the 1997 Defense Security Cooperation Agreement which expired recently. “Among the (defense) collaboration that’s being identified are of course cooperation between the defense establishment, engagement in joint and combine training activities, border security, exchange of visits, education, information sharing, development of interoperability, among others,” Daza said.
Marcos and Widodo will also witness the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on cultural cooperation between the Philippines’s National Commission for Culture and Indonesia’s Arts and the Ministry of Education and Culture Indonesia.
“The MOU on cultural cooperation hopes to promote people-to-people exchanges and mutual understanding through cultural activities, as well as promotion of cultural-related industries,” she said.
The President will also meet with business leaders to promote trade and investment to support the Philippines’ economic agenda under his administration.
After the visit to Indonesia, the President will head to Singapore, where he will meet Singaporean President Yacob and President and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong separately to discuss the close bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as regional and global issues. Marcos and Lee will also witness the signing of agreements on counterterrorism and data privacy.
The Philippine-Singapore counterterrorism agreement involves having the Armed Forces of both the Philippines and Singapore assign a team to the regional Counter-Terrorism Information Facility (CTIF). The CITF, an initiative of Singapore, is a multilateral coordinating platform of “like-minded countries” sharing intelligence and providing early warning, monitoring and analysis capabilities of terrorist activities.
“By deploying a Philippine officer, the Philippines can share its experience and expertise in addressing or combatting terrorism. At the same time, gather valuable intelligence from other countries and expand our defense network,” Daza said.
As Singapore is a key trade and investment partner of the Philippines, an economic briefing and business roundtable meetings will be organized, where the President intends to invite investments into the Philippines and create more job opportunities in the country.
The President will also meet the Filipino communities in Indonesia and Singapore to personally assure them of the government’s continuing commitment to protect their rights and promote their welfare as overseas Filipinos.
Daza would not say though, if Marcos would request Widodo to commute the death sentence on overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso. In 2015, the Filipina domestic helper was about to be executed for smuggling drugs to Indonesia when President Widodo ordered a stay of her execution at the last minute.
Invoking the Asean Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III had called Widodo to inform him that Veloso will be needed to testify against her recruiter on charges of human trafficking.–
Image credits: Bloomberg