Bongbong Marcos trip reaps $8.5-B investment, supply pledges
JAKARTA — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday concluded his inaugural state visit here, bringing with him $8.48 billion worth of investment pledges and coal and fertilizer supply commitments from Indonesian businessmen as well as an assurance of enhanced economic and security cooperation from Indonesian President Joko Widodo, particularly in improving the country’s agriculture sector.
“I would describe the trip as more productive than we had expected,” a beaming Marcos told journalists who covered his three-day foreign travel.
“So far, so good,” he added. “The things that we planned to talk about with (Widodo) … and the subjects that we expected to be raised (were discussed). We even went beyond the planned (agenda).”
“President Widodo’s ministers were very enthusiastic about the (business) prospects in the Philippines and they see many opportunities. So we will pursue that,” he noted.
Marcos said he and his delegation, which included members of his economic team, had two separate meetings with Indonesian business groups on Monday.
According to the president, the “most extensive subject matter” of the meetings centered on public-private partnership (PPP) projects, a policy that the late President Benigno Aquino III employed to entice investors to bankroll major infrastructure projects.
In a summary of the memorandums of agreement and letters of intent signed at the Jakarta Business Roundtable Meeting on Sept. 5, $7 billion was pledged in infrastructure for unsolicited PPPs such as a C-5 four-level elevated expressway.
Another $822 million in investments were committed in textiles, garments, renewable energy, satellite gateway, wire global technology, and agrifood, as well as $662 million worth of coal and fertilizer supplies.
“We anticipate that these will generate at least 7,000 new jobs,” according to Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles.
The president, who was accompanied by first lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and their son Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, said he was optimistic that Filipinos would benefit from the agreements that his delegation secured during his trip.
Marcos, also the concurrent agriculture secretary, said he sought his Indonesian counterpart’s assistance in providing urea fertilizers for Filipino farmers and in addressing the problems besetting the fishing industry in the Philippines.
Fertilizer prices in the Philippines have more than doubled since last year due to a global tight supply, causing a decline in farmers’ production.
The President noted that he was “obsessed” with the fact that the Philippines, an archipelago with one of the world’s longest coastlines, had to import galunggong (round scad), once known as the “poor man’s fish” for being inexpensive.
“I asked for help because they have a strong fisheries [industry]. So I said we can exchange delegations,” the chief executive said.
Among the Philippines’ economic sectors, agriculture has been the most beset by problems, ranging from shortages in rice, sugar, vegetables, and even salt, to declining livestock output — all of which had to be addressed by importation.
According to the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., for instance, the country imports a million tons or 93 percent of its salt needs from Australia and China, yet it has 36,000 kilometers of shoreline and needs only 6 percent of this to be self-sufficient.
“There were other areas that we did not plan to talk about, but we ended up talking about,” noted the President.
The chief executive’s bilateral meeting with Widodo, held at the Bogor Presidential Palace on Monday, “proceeded so quickly” that they were able to agree on establishing task forces to reach agreements “at the technical level.”
“Generally, you don’t get to [that level] in a state visit,” he said. “Usually, you only talk at the ministerial level or discuss within the groups. But [Widodo] said, ‘Let’s skip that. Let’s go straight already. Let’s get something done.’”
However, the president did not mention the case of Mary Jane Veloso, the convicted Filipino drug mule on death row in Indonesia since 2010. Last week, hopes of finally helping Veloso were raised by the statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs that the Filipino’s case would be part of the state visit’s agenda.
The president, who flew to Singapore before noon for the second leg of his foreign trip, said he also brought to Widodo’s attention the country’s need for coal, the major source of power in the Philippines.
He also said that they spoke about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an international trade agreement involving the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Both the Philippines and Indonesia have yet to ratify the free-trade deal, which some critics claimed would adversely impact the agriculture sector in Asean.
“The Philippines’ ratification of RCEP … is going to be very high up on the order of business of the Senate after the (2023 national) budget is passed,” Marcos pointed out.