Vibrant Indonesian friendship
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Thanks to the efforts of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa, the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held recently in Cambodia is not a total failure.
It will be recalled that, for the first time in Asean’s 45-year history, no communiqué was issued by the organization after the host country, a close ally of China, rejected the proposal of the Philippines and Vietnam to make some reference to their territorial dispute with China.
The impasse was a serious blow to the prestige of the regional bloc that has ambitious plans of developing and harmonizing its members’ financial and economic structures along the lines of the European Union.
Through Natelagawa’s shuttle diplomacy, a six-point declaration of principles was forged among the Asean members on the resolution of territorial disputes at the South China Sea.
No mention was made of the Scarborough Shoal and parts of the Spratly Islands where the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and China have conflicting ownership claims.
The compromise wording was accepted by Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar whose economies are heavily dependent on Chinese support.
With this development, Asean remains, at least for the time being, in good footing.
Indonesia’s “coming to the rescue” of the Philippines on an issue critical to the preservation and protection of its territorial integrity in the face of China’s bullying tactics does not come as a surprise.
Our closest southern neighbor has, on several occasions, lent a hand when we needed assistance on some national or international problem.
The latest of such action was the arrival some weeks ago of a contingent of Indonesian soldiers to join the International Monitoring Team, consisting of Malaysian, Bruneian and Libyan troops, earlier organized to oversee the ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Force.
The Indonesians will help neutralize the suspicion by some quarters that the Malaysian component of the monitoring team (which forms the bulk of the group) is, on account of the unresolved Sabah ownership issue, biased against the Philippine government. Or worse, the MILF’s Trojan horse in the ongoing peace talks.
Without any hidden agenda that may affect its judgment on the issues that may be brought before the monitoring team, Indonesia is perceived to be an honest broker or impartial mediator who will decide matters objectively and in the best interests of the contending parties.
On a personal note, I have noticed an almost spontaneous or natural camaraderie between Filipinos and Indonesians in the regional and international business conferences I attended in the past.
This rapport may perhaps be attributed to the common Malay stock we share, and the similarity in political and social problems that our countries have gone through.
It also helps that some words in the Indonesian language, Bahasa, have the same meaning in some Filipino words. It’s a good ice breaker.
From experience, it’s easier to make friends with Indonesians than with Singaporeans who tend to be standoffish on account of their advanced economic development, or with Malaysians who consider themselves the poster boy of Islamic wealth in this part of the world, or with Thais whose unique ethnic and cultural upbringing sometimes makes it difficult for them to relate to their neighbors.
This ease of friendship often resulted in Filipinos and Indonesians spending time together after the end of official business activities. Both seem to share a love for friendly banter over good food and refreshing drinks. You can read between the lines.
I experienced what I consider my ultimate test of Indonesian friendship sometime in the late 1990s when then Indonesian President Suharto was ousted from power and mobs of angry youth roamed the business district of Jakarta.
There was an anti-West frenzy at that time. Foreigners were advised by the authorities to stay off the streets and avoid contact with roaming anti-government protesters.
The hotel where I was staying advised all non-Indonesian guests to leave and go to the Sukarno-Hatta International Airport preparatory to catching a flight out of the country.
Arrangements were made for soldiers to escort the hotel vans that would bring the guests to the airport. For security reasons, the Asian guests did not ride with the Westerners.
Due to the chaos in the streets, some vehicles got cut off from the military escort and were left to fend for themselves. Small youth groups brandishing sticks and machetes banged at the windows demanding on the passengers to show their passports.
Holders of American and European passports were jeered and, if not for the timely intervention of the hotel security staff, would have been dragged out of the vehicle. It was a very scary and dangerous scene.
There were three other Filipinos in the van I rode. When we showed our passports, the group that accosted us smiled and shouted “Filipino, Filipino, OK, OK” and motioned to their companions who were blocking the van to move aside and let us through.
The other guests we rode with, whose nationalities I never got to know or even thought of asking because of the tense situation, profusely thanked us for benefiting from the goodwill the Indonesians showed us.
After 30 agonizing minutes, we got to the airport and boarded our respective flights out of Jakarta.
Never had a Philippine passport been so valuable to me than that time.
Terima kasih (thank you), Indonesia, for the latest and past favors.
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