Philippine presidents

ASEAN first: Philippine presidents and their state visits

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ASEAN first: Philippine presidents and their state visits
Inaugural trips to Southeast Asian countries 'demonstrate the importance the Philippines places on relations with fellow neighbors,' says the DFA

MANILA, Philippines – The world of diplomacy thrives on the power of symbols. And in charting global priorities, nothing can be more symbolic than a leader’s first state visit.

State visits are between one head of state and another, and are usually prompted by invitations of other heads of state to the president of the Philippines.

After the People Power revolt of 1986, all Philippine presidents have opted to pick Southeast Asian neighbors for their first state visits. Incumbent Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. follows this tradition with state visits to Indonesia and Singapore from September 4 to 7.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, inaugural trips to Southeast Asian countries “demonstrate the importance the Philippines places on relations with fellow neighbors” in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

Formed in 1967, the regional bloc holds “ASEAN centrality” as one of its key principles. Having presidents carry out their first state visit to an ASEAN state forms part of how the Philippines, as a founding member, is committed to upholding this principle and positioning the body as a leader in shaping the region. 

Before ASEAN’s creation, the last country a Philippine president visited outside the region was the United States, under the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Here’s a list of where post-EDSA Philippine presidents undertook their first state visits:

Corazon Aquino

Indonesia (August 25-26, 1986)

Amid threats to overthrow her, President Corazon Aquino conducted her first state visit to Indonesia in the early months of her administration.

Her state visit to Indonesia happened from August 25-26, 1986, and focused on promoting economic cooperation between the two countries. Aquino also signed economic accords and agreements on air search and rescue cooperation.

According to the Official Gazette, Aquino in her arrival speech reaffirmed the tight relationship between the Philippines and Indonesia. She also highlighted Indonesia’s strides in agriculture and food production then.

Fidel Ramos

Malaysia (January 27-30, 1993)

During President Fidel V. Ramos’ state visit to Malaysia, he made a proposal to set up a consulate in Sabah and Davao, which Malaysia eventually agreed to. However, Ramos downplayed the North Borneo issue despite calls from members of Congress to pursue the claim.

Ramos also delivered a speech before Malaysia’s National Chamber of Commerce and Industries on January 28, 1993, stating that the Philippines is “reaffirming the fraternity of our two countries” and “renewing our commitment to our partnership in ASEAN.”

“In the Philippines, we have restored political stability and prepared the ground for economic expansion. As my country begins our own ascent to growth, Malaysia’s own epic of development begins to inspire us and makes us determined to become a newly industrializing economy by the year 2000,” said Ramos then.

Joseph Estrada

Singapore (October 11-14, 1998)

During the state dinner in honor of President Estrada and his wife, then-president Ong Teng Cheong talked about the growth of the bilateral trade between Singapore and the Philippines despite the regional economic crisis. The Singaporean president also highlighted the need to strengthen the partnership between their country and the Philippines in times of economic adversity.

“We should work together to encourage the continuation of free-market policies that have served us well. We need to underscore to foreign investors the region’s sound economic fundamentals and work together in regional fora like ASEAN and APEC to ensure that the momentum towards economic liberalization does not weaken,” Ong Teng Cheong said.

Ong Teng Cheong said in his speech, “There is a large Filipino community working and living here in Singapore. We appreciate their presence here and value their contributions to Singapore.”

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Malaysia (August 7-9, 2001)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrived in Kuala Lumpur on August 7, 2001 for a three-day state visit at the invitation of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (Supreme Head of State), according to Malaysia’s Perdana Library.

President Arroyo was accompanied by her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and a delegation, which included the then Senate President, ministers, officials, and businessmen of the Philippines.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo chaired a delegation meeting that touched on bilateral and regional issues. The state visit was sealed with three signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) regarding health, information, and tourism.

Benigno Aquino III

Vietnam (October 26-30, 2010)

President Benigno Aquino III arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on August 26, 2010, for his first state visit upon the invitation of President Nguyen Minh Triet.

President Aquino was accompanied by a 52-person delegation led by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Abad, Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licuanan, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ramon Carandang, and Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo of the Philippine Coast Guard, among others.

Four memorandums of agreement (MOAs) were signed, namely on academic cooperation, defense cooperation, oil spill preparedness and response, and search and rescue at sea.

Rodrigo Duterte

Indonesia (September 8-9, 2016)

President Rodrigo Duterte embarked on his first state visit to Indonesia on September 8, 2016, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

On June 25, 2017, President Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a joint declaration of cooperation ensuring maritime security in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas.

One of the visit’s highlights was the discussion on the trade of illegal drugs, air and sea connectivity, and measures to improve people-to-people exchanges between Indonesia and the Philippines.

Duterte also brought up the case of convicted drug mule Mary Jane Veloso, whose execution had been indefinitely postponed.

Veloso has been detained in Indonesia after being duped into being a drug mule. In April 2015, Veloso was supposed to be executed by a firing squad but she was temporarily spared through the efforts of the Aquino administration, partly because of the arrest of her recruiters in the Philippines.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Indonesia (September 4-6, 2022)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first foreign trip was to Indonesia, from September 4 to 6, 2022.

According to Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, the case of Mary Jane Veloso was among the issues raised during the state visit of Marcos to the foreign land.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said agreements signed with Indonesia during the state visit include the Philippines-Indonesia Plan of Action, renewal of an agreement on defense and security cooperative activities, and a memorandum of understanding on cultural cooperation. – Jonette May Manalo and Michelle Anne Perez/

Jonette May Manalo and Michelle Anne Perez are Rappler interns. This story was vetted and checked by editors before publishing.

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