“Half-full, half-empty”. That’s how psychologists tell us about our outlook in life. This too applies with the oceans. It can be seen as waters that bridge or divides nations.
The recent launch of a Ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) service between Indonesia and the Philippines bridges two nations and peoples with so many commonalities using the sea as a means to reach out to each other. But what is that makes this bridge significant to the two nations.
Indonesia has so many islands so close to Davao and General Santos cities in the Philippines than to mainland Indonesia. While the Ro-ro services make goods move easier between the two countries, it will be now easier for citizens from both sides to travel the route armed only with passports. Islanders from Indonesia would prefer to buy goods from Davao or General Santos City and avail of medical services too.
In the 1950s, not a few Indonesian nationals would travel the rough seas to get to Davao in search of opportunities. They do odd jobs and because they are made of sterner stuff they go about their chores uncomplaining and were happy and contented with what they have. In time they learned the language and had been assimilated. Because they belong to the same Malay race like we do, there is no way one can distinguish them from the rest of those who dwell in the coastal barangays of Davao City for example.
Looking at the leaders of both nations stand side by side and various ASEAN ceremonies, one cannot escape their physical similarities. Then later we discovered that their similarities go beyond their physical attributes. They too have practically the same background in upbringing, political fortunes and perhaps destinies.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Joko Widodo give premium to sovereignty and condemn terrorism and drugs and strong advocates of rule of law. Their common attributes are as stark as the waters where both nations share. Sometimes fishermen from either side stray in each other territories but civility and understanding always reign supreme between the two. Among the ASEAN nations, Indonesia and the Philippines are the closest allies.
The launching of the Ro-ro service is still another manifestation of the ties that binds, of the sincere bilateral relations that the two countries had nurtured since 1949 when diplomatic relations between them was established.
Not a few quarters condemn Muslim nations for the rise of terrorism not realizing that Indonesia which is the most populous Muslim country in the world suffered the most from this. This is the reason why Widodo, a strong advocate against terrorism, was voted into power by his people. It is in the same vein that Filipinos, tired of the rising tide of drug menace and criminality, elected Duterte (as) President.
We expect a stronger partnership between the two countries in terms of guarding its common waters and boundaries against piracy, destruction of its marine resources, transport of drugs and other transnational crimes that bedevil both nations.
This development augurs well for both neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines. This is for the interim. In November, when the ASEAN will meet again here in the Philippines with China, Japan and Korea (ASEAN+3) attending we are in for a more dramatic multi-lateral issues to be tackled under the able stewardship of our President Duterte. A lot of changes happened since he stepped into Malacanang. In the field of diplomacy and foreign relations, the much-maligned president, restored the dignity of the Philippines as a sovereign state. (President) Duterte was denigrated and lampooned by western media and some sectors in the domestic press and local oligarchy who had been enjoying their fiesta in the spineless Aquino administration. But the President obviously earned the respect for the Philippines which had been treated like a doormat by the Western countries.
It is not by happenstance that US President Donald Trump expressed interest to join the ASEAN forum in November and neither is it a wonderment that President Duterte is invited to Washington DC. Something is happening beyond the seas.
(Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan)