By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

Security concerns top Duterte’s Malaysia trip

Posted on November 10, 2016

IN CONTINUATION of his “introductory visits” to Southeast Asian countries, President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday, Nov. 9, left for a two-day official visit to Malaysia to strengthen Manila and Kuala Lumpur’s partnership in “security and stability.”

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands as he arrives to meet with the Filipino community during his official visit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Nov. 9. -- Reuters
But before touching down in Malaysia, Mr. Duterte would first travel to Thailand to pay respects to the Thai people following the passing in October of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Mr. Duterte said “the King was a true friend of the Philippines, whose state visit in 1963 continues to resonate to this day.”

In his departure statement on Wednessday, Mr. Duterte said he would discuss as the “foremost on my agenda” in his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak “the maritime security and the fight against piracy at sea,” citing these areas as “foundations of our nation’s peace process, progress, and prosperity.”

He also said the Philippines and Malaysia must ensure that “our waterways are secure and that criminal and terrorists elements do not use our seas to undertake their illegal activities.”

He added: “I will also seek greater cooperation in the war against illicit drug trade. This menace knows no boundaries and cooperation between our nations is vital in order to address this problem.”

“Bilateral defense, security and law enforcement efforts should be seen as supporting both our nations’ resolve to contribute to greater stability in Southeast Asia and in the larger region.”

Mr. Duterte also said “economic cooperation will be [an] important point of reference,” adding that he will discuss with his Malaysian counterpart “the ways of intensifying two-way trade and investment as well as support for the Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) to spur Mindanao growth.”

“The two tracks of peace and prosperity have to be pursued [to] ensure that the developments that we aim [for] will benefit all,” he said.

Joining the President in his trip are Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, Communications Secretary Martin M. Andanar, National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr., Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Peace Process Adviser Jesus G. Dureza, Philippine National Police Chief Dir. Gen. Ronald M. dela Rosa, and other officials.

In a news conference following his departure speech, Mr. Duterte said he would not, as earlier suggested, raise the country’s historic claim to Sabah in his bilateral meeting with Mr. Najib because the focus of his stay there is to confront the problem of piracy at the Strait of Malacca.

“[I will] [n]ot [raise the Sabah issue] at this time because my visit [to Malaysia] is just one day to focus on what is happening in the Malacca Strait,” Mr. Duterte said, describing this area as “a vital artery going to the Pacific Ocean.”

As for another area right within Philippine territory, Mr. Duterte said: “[It] is important that I can talk to him [Mr. Najib] about these issues... including the rebellion of the Moro in Jolo, in the Zamboanga archipelago.”

Sabah had long been the unresolved subject of a claim by the Philippine government dating back to the postwar era, citing the territory’s links to the Sultanate of Sulu. The dispute resurfaced in 2013 following a protracted standoff ending in violence between Malaysian forces and armed men identified with the sultanate.

In a Palace briefing on Monday, Nov. 7, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles C. Jose said Mr. Duterte “will be prepared to discuss” Sabah.

“It may or it may not be raised. But, in any case, if it is raised by either side, I’m sure our President will be prepared to discuss this issue,” Mr. Jose said.