September 6, 2022
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was determined to “bolster bilateral and regional cooperation” with the Philippines on Monday, announcing plans to “significantly increase” trade and infrastructure collaboration and reaffirming teamwork for border security and defense.
This was conveyed in a speech made shortly after welcoming Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to the Bogor Palace in West Java. Indonesia was the leader’s first destination for a state visit after his inauguration in June, a choice he justified using the two countries’ proximity and shared ancestral roots.
During his remarks, Jokowi said he had pushed for a significant increase in the volume of trade with the Philippines, namely in the export of food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, as well agricultural products derived from coconut and seaweed.
“The trade volume of Indonesia and the Philippines has increased almost by 50 percent compared to last year,” Jokowi noted.
Despite undergoing a trade recession in 2020, the two countries’ dealings have managed to recover, with data from United Nations Comtrade placing their two-way trade at US$9.87 billion in 2021 — a record high since at least 1989.
Meanwhile, Marcos Jr. elaborated that amid a “very volatile time in geopolitics” and post-pandemic economy, bilateral and regional cooperation on trade and infrastructure is of the utmost importance to keep the countries staying afloat.
“Our discussions progressed so rapidly that [Jokowi] and I have agreed to organize task forces to meet and discuss — no longer at the political or the diplomatic level — but at the technical level,” said the Philippine leader.
“[This is so that we are] able to take full advantage of the opportunities that we feel are available to us, and that we will need to exploit to succeed in the near future.”
The President added that the partners are committed to increasing collaboration in infrastructure and strategic industries, with several Indonesian state-owned enterprises (SOEs) currently involved in Manila’s landing-ship and train-signaling projects. Plans to export Indonesian-made NC12i airplanes are also in the cards, he said.
“Going forward, I would like [to see] SOEs and private companies have an increased zeal in supporting the Philippines’ infrastructure,” Jokowi asserted.
“I have invited the Philippines to expand trade and connectivity at our border regions, suggesting the revitalization of the RoRo [roll-on/roll-off] ship routes to Davao and the opening of a flight path from Manado to Davao.”
The bilateral shipping route was previously launched on the margins of the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship in 2017.
Additionally, four security agreements were signed during Marcos Jr.’s visit, all of which are related to border and regional defense: a border-crossing agreement review, a border-patrol agreement, a deal on cooperative activities in defense and security and the trilateral arrangement with Malaysia in the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea triangle.
Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have been working closely to monitor the safety of their borders for the past several years, as terrorism threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) made their citizens vulnerable to the armed group’s kidnap-for-ransom activities — some of which have ended in beheadings in the past.
As the leaders of ASEAN’s founding members, both Jokowi and Marcos Jr. underlined the importance of cooperation beyond the bilateral agreement to fortify the group’s centrality in the region, with the latter stating that ASEAN is the “lead agent in the changes that we would like to see” in the world after turbulence brought about by COVID-19 and other precarious global political situations.
“Within this context, Indonesia will host an Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Forum next year,” Jokowi announced.
“I would like to ensure that it [ASEAN] becomes a locomotive of stability, peace and prosperity in the region,” the President added.
The Philippines also extended their “full support” for Indonesia’s role as ASEAN chairman in 2023.
Tale of two leaders
The two presidents spent the morning symbolically planting a Bornean ironwood tree — a threatened species endemic to the two countries. After his Bogor visit, Marcos Jr. was also set to meet with some businessmen before flying to Singapore and Malaysia, respectively.
Teuku Rezasyah, an international relations expert from Padjadjaran University, noted that while the two leaders had come from wildly opposing backgrounds — Jokowi from a humble carpentry family and Marcos Jr. from a wealthy political dynasty — the two were seemingly getting along on their first meeting. “
This is indeed a quite unique situation. It might have been a different story if Jokowi decided to bring along his son, but he did not. […] It was seen that the two exchanged genuine smiles with each other and got along well,” he said.
“They are from very different backgrounds, but they could overcome their differences for the sake of the future and for ASEAN.”
The expert added that Indonesia and the Philippines have enjoyed decades of amicable diplomatic relations, and that both countries played essential roles in the formation of ASEAN. But more recent diplomatic cooperation could prove useful for settling the crisis in the South China Sea as well as ensuring the United States’ attendance at the upcoming Group of Twenty (G20) Summit, he added.
“The Philippines is a close ally of the US, and it is possible that Indonesia had requested good faith from Manila to help persuade the US to attend the G20 behind-the-scenes. Without Washington, it would be an opportunity for China to dominate, which Indonesia is wary about,” he said.
Marcos Jr.’s visit was both in keeping with the ASEAN tradition for new leaders to tour their neighbors’ capital cities as well as a shot at rescuing one of his citizens, Mary Jane Veloso, from a death sentence given by Indonesia in 2010 for trafficking heroin.