Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Widodo arrives for talks with Aquino

CAPITAL DISAGREEMENT:Indonesia’s planned execution of a Filipina convicted of smuggling heroin underscores the differences that must be overcome to boost ties

AFP, MANILA

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived on his first state visit to the Philippines yesterday, as the fate of a Filipina facing execution for drug smuggling in his country hovers over planned talks.

Widodo, on the last stop of a three-nation trip that has taken him to Malaysia and Brunei, is scheduled to meet with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III today, with the pair expected to sign several agreements, the presidential palace in Manila said.

However, his visit comes as the Philippines tries to prevent the execution of a female national facing death by firing squad in Indonesia after being convicted of smuggling heroin.

A spokesman for Aquino, Edwin Lacierda, said the leaders would discuss drug trafficking, but did not say if they would address the case of the woman, who has not been publicly named.

“We are in discussions to further work out cooperation in various areas of mutual interest and concerns, such as migrant workers, technical-vocational skills upgrading, the combatting of trafficking of narcotics, and [for] educational visits,” Lacierda said.

China is also likely to be on the agenda, analysts said, with Indonesia regarded as having a potentially pivotal role in calming rising tensions between Manila and Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Then-president-elect Widodo told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun in August last year that Indonesia, which has better bilateral ties with China than the Philippines, stood ready to act as an intermediary.

“Indonesia has the gravitas to be the champion of peace in the ASEAN. Widodo can also be our partner in our efforts to improve relations with China,” former Philippine ambassador to ASEAN Wilfrido Villacorta said.

“Even if Indonesia is not a claimant country [in the South China Sea dispute], it has always been playing the role of a convener of important discussions on the issue since the 1980s,” said Villacorta, now an international relations specialist at De la Salle University in Manila.

The Philippines signed a maritime border accord with Indonesia in May last year that has been hailed as a model for peacefully settling territorial disputes.

Last month, Widodo angered several countries by allowing the execution of six offenders on drug charges last month, including five foreigners. Eight prisoners convicted on drugs charges are scheduled to be executed this month.

The Philippines does not have the death penalty.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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