Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., left, escorted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects an honor guard upon his arrival at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Monday, Sept, 5, 2022. (Adek Berry/ Pool Photo via AP)

BOGOR, Indonesia (AP) — Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos Jr. affirmed deepening economic and security ties with Indonesia on Monday during the first overseas trip of his presidency, while expressing concern about the persistent difficulties Southeast Asian nations have faced after pandemic.

Indonesia is the region’s largest economy and a traditional first diplomatic destination for new leaders in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his wife, Iriana, hosted Marcos and Philippine first lady Louise Araneta at a ceremony in the colonial-style presidential palace in Bogor, just outside the capital, Jakarta.

At a joint news conference, Marcos said increasing the volume of trade between their nations had been important in their talks. He said the strategic partnership between Indonesia and the Philippines, and also with partners, allies and friends around the world, “Will be of critical importance so that we remain stable as we grow out of the pandemic economy.”

Widodo said his government has proposed to revitalize a ferry line connecting the border cities of Bitung and Davao and opening a direct flight between Manado, in eastern Indonesia and Davao, in the southern Philippines, to spur trade and their countries’ economies.

Marcos, the son of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, arrived in Jakarta on Sunday with his wife and government officials, including Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, who held separate talks with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

Manalo has said Marcos intends to raise the case of a Filipino domestic worker on Indonesia’s death row for drug trafficking. Arrested in 2010, Mary Jane Veloso has claimed innocence, saying she was duped into carrying a suitcase containing heroin.

Marcos did not raise the case during the joint news conference with Widodo.

The two leaders witnessed the signing of agreements for economic partnership, as well as cooperation in defense, border security and cultural areas.

“I am pleased that we have renewed the cooperative trilateral between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia because it is very important in securing waterways from the threat of hostage-taking and kidnapping,” Widodo said.

Indonesian government data showed some 44 Indonesians were kidnapped and held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines between 2016 and 2019. Of the total, one hostage died while the others were freed. Most were migrant workers abducted off Sabah on Malaysia’s eastern coast.

They also discussed issues such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the war in Ukraine that has upended the world’s fragile economic recovery from the pandemic.

“We agreed that ASEAN is going to be the lead agent in the changes that we would like to see in continuing to bring peace to our countries,” Marcos said.

Indonesia is the chair of the Group of 20 biggest economy this year and ASEAN next year.

Marcos is scheduled to meet with Indonesian business leaders and members of the Filipino community in Indonesia. He’ll later visit Singapore to sign pacts on security, counterterrorism and data privacy.

Marcos took office June 30 after he won a landslide victory in elections 36 years after an army-backed “People Power” revolt booted his father from office. He has refused to acknowledge the massive human rights abuses and corruption that occurred under his father while instead adhering to his campaign message of a vague call for national unity.

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