Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, left, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi pictured during a meeting in Jakarta on Monday (20/08). (Photo courtesy of the Foreign Ministry)

Indonesia to Support Economic Development of Moro Autonomous Region in Philippines


AUGUST 21, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesia and the Philippines plan to step up cooperation with a special focus on the latter's southern region, where the country's indigenous Moro Muslims are in the process of gaining autonomy, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in Jakarta on Monday (20/08).

Retno and her Philippine counterpart, Alan Peter Cayetano, discussed opportunities for the Indonesian private sector in the development of the neighboring country's southern region.

"The Philippines are hoping that more of Indonesia's private sector will get involved in the future, for example in the southern Philippines, after the establishment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law," Retno told reporters after the meeting.


Last month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which effectively paves the way for the Moro people to establish their own parliament, manage the territory's natural resources and incorporate Islamic law into the region's justice system.

The term Moro refers to millions of Muslims of various ethnic groups in the Philippines that form the largest non-Catholic group in the country. The provinces where they live are among the country's poorest.

The law replaces the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, established in 1990 to curb a separatist movement in the region.

However, it was still largely run by the central government and failed to quell the Moro rebellion.

The new law will require the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to gradually disband its army, which comprises thousands of fighters. This will end decades-long peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government.

However, the formal establishment of the Bangsamoro will still require a plebiscite, which is expected to take place before the end of the year.

Indonesian Investment

Several Indonesian state-owned enterprises, including construction firm Wijaya Karya (Wika) and locomotive maker INKA, are currently involved in projects in the Philippines.

Publicly listed retail chain operator Sumber Alfaria Trijaya, which runs Alfamart, has opened hundreds of stores with local partners in the Philippines.

Ride-hailing firm Go-Jek, Indonesia's first billion-dollar startup, has also announced plans to expand to the Philippines.

"With the Bangsamoro Organic Law, there will be an autonomous government and they will kickstart new economic activities. As close neighbors, [Cayetano] hopes Indonesia will continue to participate in the economic development of the region," Retno said.

Besides being a foreign investor in the Philippines, Retno said Indonesia also shares a cultural affinity with the neighboring country's southern region.

Furthermore, the Philippines seeks to learn from Indonesia's experiences in Aceh, which was granted special autonomy in 2005.

"They seek to learn from us, as they've seen how we implemented autonomy in Aceh and now the province is more peaceful," said Denny Abdi, director general for Southeast Asia at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Indonesia battled an Aceh separatist movement for decades before signing a truce that granted the country's western-most province special autonomy, including the right to impose Islamic law.

Over the past year, cooperation between the two countries has focused on the southern Philippines, specifically in a joint fight against extremism following the 2017 siege of Marawi City.

The conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 people and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. It also raised concerns in Indonesia and Malaysia, which both border the Philippines, that militants could flee to nearby Sulawesi, Maluku and Sabah.

It led to trilateral cooperation, including joint development and implementation of counterterrorism measures and joint sea patrols in waters off North Kalimantan and in the Sulu Sea.

In addition, Indonesia and the Philippines increased cooperation on Islamic education in February as part of an effort to prevent the spread of radicalism.