Manila (AFP) – New Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived on his first state visit to the Philippines Sunday, as the fate of a Filipina facing execution for drug smuggling in his country hovers over planned talks.
Dressed in traditional batik shirt, Widodo was met at a Manila airbase by Philippine officials before being whisked away without making any statement.
Widodo, who is on the last stop of a three-nation trip after visiting Malaysia and Brunei, will meet with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday with the pair expected to sign several agreements, the presidential palace in Manila said.
However, his visit comes as the Philippines tries to prevent the execution of a female national facing death by firing squad in Indonesia after being convicted of smuggling heroin.
A spokesman for Aquino, Edwin Lacierda, said the leaders would discuss drug trafficking but did not say if they would address the case of the woman, who has not been publicly named.
“We are in discussions to further work out cooperation in various areas of mutual interest and concerns, such as migrant workers, technical-vocational skills upgrading, the combating of trafficking of narcotics, and (for) educational visits,” Lacierda said.
Another Aquino spokesman, Herminio Coloma, later said in an interview on government radio that the two leaders would also take up “maritime cooperation, defence, trade and investment”.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said that the accords would cover education, narcotics cooperation, a joint declaration on protecting migrant workers and “research and training in the field of defence studies”.
This could include the issue of China, which regards Indonesia as having a potentially pivotal role in calming rising tensions between Manila and Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, according to analysts.
In August, then-president-elect Widodo told Japan’s Asahi newspaper that Indonesia, which has better bilateral ties with China than the Philippines, stood ready to act as an intermediary.
“Indonesia has the gravitas to be the champion of peace in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Widodo can also be our partner in our efforts to improve relations with China,” Wilfrido Villacorta, a former Philippine ambassador to Asean, said.