Marcos Jr. administration

Why is Marcos in Malaysia, and who’s with him

Bea Cupin

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Why is Marcos in Malaysia, and who’s with him

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos arrive in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on July 25, 2023

Presidential Communications Office

From agriculture, the halal industry and tourism, here's what Marcos intends to bring up during a 3-day state visit to Malaysia

MANILA, Philippines – A day after delivering his second “progress report” to the nation, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. jetted over to nearby Malaysia for a three-day state visit. Marcos was invited by King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, Malaysia’s head of state.

Marcos flew out on Tuesday, July 25, via a chartered Philippine Airlines flight, straight to Kuala Lumpur. He arrived at around 4 pm the same day.

What does Marcos intend to achieve from yet another foreign trip and who is with him?

Here’s what you need to know about the president’s latest trip.

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Who’s going?

Marcos, as in all his previous trips abroad, is accompanied by First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos. Other family members are also part of the delegation – among them, his cousins House Speaker Martin Romualdez and his son Senior Deputy Majority Leader Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” Marcos.

Senators are also part of the legislation – Senators Mark Villar and JV Ejercito were among those who joined Marcos in his first event in Kuala Lumpur.

Since Congress just resumed session, that means key members – the two House leaders and the two senators – will be absent during the first few plenary sessions of their respective chambers.

Cabinet members in Malaysia include Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil, Finance Secretary Ben Diokno, and Trade Secretary Fred Pascual, among others.

Why Malaysia?

As in previous visits abroad, Marcos’ visit intends to strengthen ties with the Southeast Asian neighbor – particularly economically.

“Building on past successes, this State Visit to Malaysia aims to identify new areas of synergies that can propel our partnership and serve as a roadmap for our respective agencies to work on for the mutual benefit of both our countries and the peoples of the new century,” he said.

In Malaysia, Marcos will be feted in a State Banquet, following an official welcome by the King and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and separate meetings with Malaysia’s head of state and head of government.

Anwar visited Manila back in early March 2023 as the first head of government to visit Marcos.

The Malaysian prime minister had visited Malacañang before in an official capacity – as a young minister of agriculture back when Marcos’ father and namesake, the late dictator, was still in power.

In Malaysia, Marcos is set to sit in business meetings, too.

According to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Malaysia is the top 10 trading partner of the Philippines and 22nd among the sources of approved investments in the Philippines, as of 2022.

When Marcos and Anwar met in early 2023, the two promised to “rekindle” joint commission meetings between the two countries, particularly over political and security matters.

Right before leaving Manila for Kuala Lumpur, Marcos said his visit would focus on food security, digital economy, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges. He also said he wanted to “explore new avenues for cooperation” including the halal industry and Islamic banking.

Maharlika, but what about Sabah?

Marcos is also likely to bring up the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund, which he recently signed into law. “Yes, it’s very safe to presume and assume. It’s pretty safe to assume that it will be raised and promoted during this visit,” said DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza in a briefing ahead of Marcos’ trip.

The Maharlika Fund is a controversial sovereign fund that was among Marcos’ pet bills. His administration has said money generated from the fund would be used to fund big-ticket government projects – but critics have pointed out that its establishment was inappropriate given the state of the country’s economy and that a wealth fund would be vulnerable to abuse.

Malaysia is testament to the dangers of a sovereign wealth fund if it falls into unscrupulous hands. The 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal was a corruption, bribery and money laundering conspiracy that saw billions of Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund allegedly embezzled. The United States has called it the “largest kleptocracy case to date.”

Marcos and his allies have vowed that Maharlika would be managed by professionals and that it would not be influenced by politics.

Absent in pre-departure speeches and briefings is another key issue: the Philippines’ dormant claim to Sabah. The Philippine president has personal links to the issue: Marcos’ father, in 1968, plotted to retake the resource-rich area.

Marcos Sr.’s botched plan, which involved recruiting, training, then murdering young Muslims to invade Sabah, would eventually spark the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao. Ironically, Malaysia would play a huge part in mending the wounds left behind in the Philippines’ southernmost region via the peace talks with the Moro rebels. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.