Indonesia and Philippines boost security ties during Marcos visit

Jojo Riñoza, Basilio Sepe and Tria Dianti
Manila and Jakarta
Indonesia and Philippines boost security ties during Marcos visit Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (second from right) and his wife Louise Araneta-Marcos (right) talk to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (third from left) and his wife, Iriana, (second from left), during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, Indonesia, Sept. 5, 2022.
Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via Reuters

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. concluded his state visit to Indonesia on Tuesday, where he and his Indonesian counterpart oversaw an agreement to strengthen bilateral defense and security ties, while the new Philippine leader stressed ASEAN’s central role at “a very volatile time in geopolitics.”

The three-day visit by Marcos was his first official overseas trip since he won the presidency by a landslide in May. He then left for Singapore, the second and final leg of his trip to other countries in Southeast Asia.

“As is proper for the times that we face today, our discussions have begun as a recognition of the long relationship that the Philippines and Indonesia have had,” Marcos said, according to a joint press statement.

While the neighboring archipelago nations are celebrating 75 years of diplomatic ties, Marcos emphasized that “our relations go much further than that because we consider Indonesians not only a neighbor, not only a friend, but kin.”

“I believe that we have made the proper choice in coming to Jakarta as my first state visit as president of the Philippines, and I believe that this is only the beginning of many more things to come between Indonesia and the Philippines,” he said.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, for his part, said he appreciated the signing of the Agreement on Cooperative Activities in the Field of Defense and Security.

“In the field of defense and security, we encouraged strengthening cooperation and safety and security of waters in border areas,” he said.

The two nations’ delegations discussed trade as well.

Jokowi called for a significant increase in trade and invited the Philippines to continue developing trade potential as well as connectivity in border areas.

“Compared to last year, trade between Indonesia and [the] Philippines increased by almost 50 percent. Indonesia, in particular, encouraged an increase in the export of food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, coconut, and seaweed products,” Jokowi said in his statement.

Marcos’ visit secured more than U.S. $8 billion worth of investment pledges, Press Secretary Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles said on Tuesday. Of that, $7 billion was investment in infrastructure for unsolicited private-public partnerships such as a four-level elevated expressway, she said in a statement.

Indonesia and the Philippines also signed agreements to bolster security along their common frontiers.

“We agreed to review the two border security agreements so that they remain relevant for people at the border,” Jokowi said, referring to the Revised Border Crossing Agreement and Border Patrol Agreement.

He also emphasized the importance of continuing trilateral border patrols with Malaysia, “which is very important to secure our waters from threats of hostage-taking and kidnapping.”

According to the coordinator of an Indonesian NGO that advocates for the welfare of sea workers, the border agreements will be important in helping reduce crimes at sea, including kidnapping and smuggling.

“For Indonesia, patrols should further improve the protection of Indonesian citizens at the border from becoming victims of kidnapping. Piracy and kidnapping must be handled rigorously and with routine patrols and intensive coordination between countries,” Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, of Destructive Fishing Watch, told BenarNews.

ASEAN’s role

Marcos and Jokowi also spoke about the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in maintaining peace in the region. Jakarta is home to the ASEAN’s headquarters, and Indonesia and the Philippines are founding members of the 55-year-old bloc.

Apart from the Philippines and Indonesia, fellow ASEAN states Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, also have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with Beijing’s sweeping claims in the waterway.

Jokowi stressed the importance of implementing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and strengthening the regional bloc’s central role and unity.

“Indonesia wishes to ensure that ASEAN remains an engine of peace, stability, peace and prosperity in the region. ASEAN must be able to address the challenges ahead and strengthen respect for the ASEAN Charter,” he said.

Marcos concurred.

“We … spoke at length about the role that we believe ASEAN should play while we face the difficulties in this very volatile time in geopolitics not only in our region but also in the rest of the world.

 “And we agreed that ASEAN is going to be the lead agent in the changes that we would like to see in continuing to bring peace to our countries,” he said.

Indonesia assumes the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN in 2023.

Marcos: ‘We should try it’

Without going into specifics, Marcos also said that the Philippines may use as a model a 2014 sea-border agreement with Indonesia to settle a festering maritime dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.

The agreement with Jakarta, which was signed after more than two decades of negotiations, clearly sets the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) borders between the Philippines and Indonesia in the Mindanao and Celebes seas.

The Philippines and Indonesia both are parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and are entitled to EEZs of 200 nautical miles.

Marcos said the idea “is worthwhile to explore,” noting that the agreement led to the settlement of previous territorial dispute with Jakarta.

“So we should try it,” Marcos told reporters during a press briefing in Jakarta on Tuesday.

“If it doesn’t work, I will try something else, but at least we have a beginning point. That’s how I see it,” he said.

Manila already won an arbitral award against China in 2016, a verdict never acknowledged by Beijing.

Don McLain Gill, an independent foreign policy expert who specializes in Indo-Pacific affairs, said the model that Marcos was proposing could force Manila and Beijing “to practically coexist and benefit politically and economically.”

“Additionally, it is in Manila’s best interest to maintain the status-quo, which is far more important for the Philippines’ development and security, rather than initiating any activity that may result in a radical fluctuation of bilateral relations with its most powerful immediate neighbors,” he told BenarNews on Tuesday, arguing that an arrangement should be “beneficial” in the long term.

However, China would likely leverage its economic and military edge over Manila to “coerce Manila in abiding by its terms, said McLain, who has written several books about the topic.

“The challenge for the Philippines will be to ensure that the deal should echo the interests, concerns and sensitivities of both sides,” he said.


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