IT is significant to note that right after attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos, President Duterte proceeded to Jakarta, Indonesia, our closest neighbor to the south with which we have so much in common.
Duterte met with Indonesian President Widodo and they agreed on increased coordination and cooperation in meeting threats to security in the seas between the two nations. Very recently, several Indonesian sailors were seized by the outlaw group Abu Sayyaf and held for ransom. President Duterte said pirates have also hampered the shipping of coal needed by Philippine power plants.
Thus, President Duterte told Filipinos in Jakarta in his usual colorful language, henceforth, Indonesia’s Navy and Coast Guard in hot pursuit of pirates may follow them into Philippine waters and “they can go ahead and blast them off.” Later, he clarified that the two nations agreed to coordinate in maintaining maritime security. If there is a pursuit entering Philippine waters, he said, the Indonesians may radio Philippine forces nearby and they can coordinate their actions. They will also broaden their cooperation in fisheries and aquatic resources, shipbuilding, and air and sea services.
The Philippines and Indonesia have long been close friends and allies. One wave of the earliest migrants to the Philippines is believed to have come from Sumatra, Indonesia, as well as the nearby Malay Peninsula. There are so many identical words in Indonesian and in Capampangan, one of the languages of Central Luzon. Natives of another part of Sumatra are believed to have settled in the Visayas. As for Mindanao, their people, especially those of the south, and those of nearby Indonesian islands have long been crossing over to either side.
History, in the form of Western colonizers, intervened. The Philippine islands came under Spain and later under the United States, while the Indonesian islands came under the Dutch. Today, the Filipinos continue to show strong Spanish and American influences, but over the decades, we have been discovering our Asian roots, specifically our closeness to Indonesia and Malaysia.
President Duterte, fresh from his participation in the ASEAN Summit in Laos, said he is determined to forge an independent Philippine foreign policy. This may mean a loosening of some ties with our former colonial authority – a most difficult task in today’s world of rising ambitious powers that threaten the very independence we seek to protect on our own. We can do this in stages as circumstances permit.
Bu what we can do immediately is to forge much closer ties than we now have with Indonesia. We may have grown apart from each other because of our colonial histories but we now stand at the threshold of a new world. As President Duterte said during the state banquet that ended his official visit, “We are brothers by blood.” There will never be questions about our territories or policies, he said, because “we share the same values.”