President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first official travel abroad could be to Southeast Asia, possibly Indonesia or Singapore, a ranking official said Wednesday.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said while many governments have invited Marcos to visit, the President is really looking to travel first to the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is recommending that he go to Indonesia and Singapore,” he said.
The relations between Indonesia and the Philippines are marked by various high-level engagements in various fields, including maritime security and counter-terrorism.
Early this month, they also laid the groundwork for the delimitation of their continental shelf boundary in the Celebes Sea, a declared priority for both countries.
The DFA said the maritime boundary delimitation between the world’s two largest archipelagic states is a significant state practice on delimitation and contributes to the development of international law, particularly the law of the sea.
Meanwhile, Romualdez said Marcos also wanted to be more active in Asean affairs and has expressed interest in playing a “major role” in getting the 10-member bloc together.
“In fact, I can tell you that he’s had conversations with (Singapore) Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) even before his inauguration and they both agree that Asean will be the forum or institution that strengthens our part of the world,” he said.
At the same time, Romualdez said the President is keen on meeting US President Joe Biden during the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
“We already told the White House that when President Marcos is at the UN, a meeting between the two leaders will be quite welcome for us,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez acknowledged, however, that there was a “slim chance” of that happening as there are 40 to 50 heads of states expected to attend the General Assembly.
“But I am sure that President Biden would like to meet those leaders that have been newly elected that he has not met,” Romualdez added.
Biden also invited Marcos to visit Washington through a personal invitation letter handed over by Douglas Emhoff, the husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, during the President’s inauguration on June 30.
Romualdez expressed hopes that more investments would come into the country from the US and China.
In a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, Romualdez said the President “knows the value” of the Philippine relations with the US, which “has always been with us,” especially throughout the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Romualdez made the statement when asked how he believes President Marcos will be different from former President Rodrigo Duterte in terms of dealing with the US, and if he thinks that there will be fewer challenges and more stability under the new administration.
Romualdez said the tension between the US and China could be a challenge for the Philippines, but said he believes Marcos has plans on how to approach both countries.
“The challenge is really on issues…as we know, these two countries are in very strong competition. We are hoping that being right in the middle of all of this, obviously our relationship with the United States is very important and we would like to reach out to China to resolve the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“But at the same time, we want a true economic activity where more investments will be coming from China. They are an economic powerhouse,” he added.
Marcos, who is Romualdez’s cousin, earlier said that in terms of foreign policy, he would not adopt the “slightly unorthodox approach” of Duterte, who rattled diplomats with his firebrand rhetoric and mercurial nature.
Marcos said he is fine with an independent foreign policy for the Philippines, which is “friends with everyone,” adding that he would seek to strike a balance between China and the US, which are vying to have the closest ties with his administration.