Marcos eyes Indonesia sea pact to settle China maritime dispute


By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said he would consider a 2014 sea border deal with Indonesia to settle the country’s sea dispute with China.

The strategy used by the two countries to settle overlapping claims in the Mindanao and Celebes seas is “worthwhile to explore at the very least,” he told reporters in Jakarta, according to a transcript sent by the presidential palace.

“It is one instance that this kind of discussion, we came to a conclusion and we came to a resolution,” he said. “We should try it.”

The 2014 sea border agreement set the exclusive economic zone borders between the Philippines and Indonesia in the Mindanao and Celebes seas. The deal came after more than two decades of negotiations.

“Hopefully it works,” Mr. Marcos said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. At least we have a beginning point.”

China has ignored a United Nations-backed arbitral award that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines.

Mr. Marcos said the delimitation talks between the Philippines and Indonesia could also be used in settling sea disputes with other countries.

“That could be the template for delimitation talks on the continental shelf that we are undergoing now,” he said. “We can use it even if we are talking to others on the similar delimitation.”

“We should show it to the rest of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as an example, that it is something that actually, it can be done.”

Ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, Mr. Marcos’ predecessor, and the Indonesian Parliament ratified the deal in 2017. The Philippine Senate concurred with the ratification in 2019.

The Philippines and Indonesia are both signatories to the 1982 UN-backed sea borders convention, which allows states to explore, exploit, conserve and manage natural resources within their exclusive economic zones.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and Indonesia renewed a deal that reaffirmed their commitment to a 1997 Defense Cooperation Agreement. The pace complements the 1975 border patrol and crossing agreements between the two countries. 

In a statement, Philippine Defense officer-in-charge Jose C. Faustino, Jr. said the renewal would let the Philippines and Indonesia collaborate on shared concerns, particularly in the Southeast Asian region.

“The Philippines and Indonesia also work together with Malaysia to pursue trilateral cooperation in view of security challenges in maritime areas of common concern,” he said.

Mr. Faustino signed the pact with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto on Monday.

Mr. Marcos left Indonesia on Tuesday for his state visit to Singapore.

“Our economic cooperation with Singapore has grown by leaps and bounds for the past half-century, and more opportunities are just waiting to be tapped by both sides,” he said earlier

There are about 200,000 migrant Filipino workers in Singapore, 84,000 of whom are domestic workers, while the rest are professionals and skilled workers, according to the Department of Migrant Workers.

Singapore has become the Philippines’ top trading partner in the region and the top source of approved investments in 2021.

The Philippines should cooperate with Indonesia on the South China Sea dispute and boost economic activities in areas being claimed by China, political analysts said on Monday.

Mr. Marcos should look at Indonesia’s plan to set up a special economic zone in its key territory in the South China Sea that China claims, they added.

Indonesia is seeking to convert the Natuna Islands, also known as the Natuna Regency, into a special economic zone to boost maritime security while attracting investments there. Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the coast of Natuna slightly overlaps with China’s widely disputed South China Sea claim.

Indonesia wants to introduce incentives to boost tourism, fishing, energy and security sectors in the region. The plan came after Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a decree dividing the Natuna Islands into different regulated zones including exploration, defense and fishing.

It seeks to counter China’s island-building activities at sea.

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and China.

Mr. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot to China when he took office in 2016. He has been accused of gambling Philippine territories to appease China, which pledged P1.2 trillion in investments and loans to fund big-ticket infrastructure projects.

Critics said few have materialized.

Mr. Marcos, 64, took office in June amid tensions in the disputed waterway and naval competition for influence among Southeast Asian countries.

In his first address to Congress on July 25, he promised to protect Philippine territories though he did not name China as an aggressor. He neither sided with China nor the United States, saying the Philippines “shall continue to be a friend to all and an enemy to none.”

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