“I view the Prime Minister’s visit as a rekindling of an old friendship and old bond that took millennia to make, between neighbors and ASEAN founding members, whose people have interacted and traded for centuries before they even knew the concept of countries. More importantly, I view this visit as a reaffirmation of our shared commitment to revitalize our bilateral relations.”
Thus did President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. sum up the significance of Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim last week, the first by a head of state during his nascent administration.
Most recently, Malaysia served as the third party facilitator in the Philippine government’s peace process that led to the eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) after decades of armed conflict.
Prime Minister Ibrahim’s political career dates back to 1983 when he was first appointed Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad whose premiership coincided with the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. When he was received at Malacañang Palace, he was described as an “old friend” – a respectful acknowledgement by an admiring peer head of state.
After being honored by the University of the Philippines with an honorary law degree, he spoke on “30 Years After The Asian Renaissance: Strategic Takeaways for ASEAN.” His keynote message was anchored on Dr. Jose Rizal’s statement: “Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest.”
Affirming that multilateral cooperation is the essential glue that binds ASEAN member-nations, he emphasized that justice underpins the alliance’s pursuit “for the betterment of all our people in a just and peaceful world.” Such declaration is best understood within the context of PM Anwar’s stature as a globally recognized advocate of democracy and accountability in a democracy. Tempered by his decades of experience in being both in the ruling coalition or in opposition, he is highly regarded on account of his finely-tuned statesmanship.
In his UP lecture, the Malaysian prime minister highlighted the continuing relevance of Rizal’s works “The Philippines A Century Hence” and “Indolence of the Filipino.” He urged ASEAN “not to fall into the comfort zone of routine and to remain united in the common cause of peace and stability.” He cautioned that routine has spawned complacency that has “allowed the world to fall behind its potential and be divided due to the convenience and routine of fake news, misplaced nationalism, islamophobia, and allowed ignorance, racial prejudice, and fascism to thrive.”
On the continuing tensions in the South China Sea, both President Marcos and Prime Minister Anwar shared the view that, on account of the complexity of the issue, both countries should pursue a comprehensive approach at the multilateral level such as the ongoing efforts to craft ASEAN’s Code of Conduct.
Indeed, the recent Marcos-Anwar talks have established a good framework for further strengthening bilateral cooperation between two allied nations that share a common Malay heritage.
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