Philippines-Indonesia relations

The significance of Jokowi’s visit to Manila

Dwight de Leon

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The significance of Jokowi’s visit to Manila

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Indonesian President Joko Widodo during the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Indonesia in May 2023.

Presidential Communications Office

With President Joko Widodo about to retire from office, an analyst says whatever he and President Marcos will discuss in Manila will be of great value, because it will 'be carried out in the next administration' if Jokowi's ally wins the presidency

MANILA, Philippines – Indonesian President Joko Widodo is set to make a three-day official visit to the Philippines from January 9 to 11, and is scheduled to meet President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the 10th.

The trip reciprocates Marcos’ visit to Indonesia in September 2022 – his first foreign travel as chief executive – where he was welcomed by the Indonesian president, who is popularly known as Jokowi.

Malacañang said in a press statement that the visit seeks to review how diplomatic relations between Manila and Jakarta are progressing following Marcos’ state visit to Indonesia two years ago.

During that trip, the Marcos administration signed four deals, the most prominent of which was the renewal of a 1997 defense agreement focusing on joint exercises, development of defense technology, and logistical cooperation between the Philippines and Indonesia.

Since then, tensions have increased dramatically in the South China Sea, amid provocations – as Marcos previously described them – by China against Philippine ships.

Marcos has met with Jokowi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit last year, but the Indonesian president’s trip to Manila offers yet another chance for the two to compare notes in terms of addressing the threats posed by Beijing in the maritime region.

“What we want is to ensure that we get to secure what is rightfully ours based on international law, while working with our like-minded partners, our neighbors especially,” geopolitical analyst Don McLain Gill told Rappler in a phone interview.

“President Marcos Jr. floated the idea of a new code of conduct between and among Southeast Asian states. I think these areas converge with the leadership in Manila and Jakarta. You know, on one hand, trying to ensure that the region builds up its own capabilities, but on the other hand, not falling victim to great power politics,” added Gill, an international studies lecturer at the De La Salle University.

Mary Jane’s case

The visit also gives Marcos an opportunity to personally bring up with Jokowi the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a migrant Filipino worker who has been on Indonesia’s death row for over a decade due to drug trafficking.

Marcos himself did not raise the matter when he met with Jokowi in September 2022 in Jakarta, although Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo asked the Indonesian government, through his counterpart, to grant executive clemency to Veloso.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, in May 2023, Marcos asked Jokowi to examine the case again.

“I believe that it’s not a thing that only takes place when both leaders meet. I think that it’s ongoing. Of course, I believe that a sustainable outcome may be achieved, will be achieved, given, of course, the convergence of interests between President Marcos Jr. and President Jokowi,” Gill said.

In the past, Marcos said his administration is not giving up on Veloso, as the Philippine government seeks legal remedies that include pardon, commutation of sentence, or extradition.

Jokowi’s retirement

Indonesians are heading to the polls next month to select the successor of Jokowi, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

It is the end of an era not just in Indonesian politics but in Indo-Pacific geopolitics, where Jokowi has emerged as among the most influential voices.

Gill stressed that the retiring Jokowi is far from a lame duck. The Indonesian president’s defense minister, Prabowo Subianto, is the front-runner in the presidential race, and Jokowi’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka is his running mate.

“There would be that level of continuity and whatever would be discussed between President Marcos Jr. and President Widodo would be significant because I believe that if the frontrunner wins, then, of course, this would continue to be carried out in the next administration because, you know, the Philippines-Indonesia relationship is of great significance,” Gill said.

The presidential vote in the world’s third largest democracy will be held on February 14. A runoff election will be held in June if no candidate gets a simple of majority of the votes. Jokowi’s successor will assume office in October. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.