MANILA (UPDATED) - When Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono steps down from office next month, he takes with him the gratitude of the Philippine government for his country's assistance in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, as well as championing the rule of law amid the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
During the traditional state dinner for a visiting head of state, President Benigno Aquino presented his Indonesian counterpart with the highest diplomatic award that Manila can give to a foreigner: the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of rajah.
'Mr. President, as you may well remember, the last time we saw each other in Myanmar, I referred to you as our uncle, which in my [Kapampangan language] is 'Bapa' -- because you have acted like a real uncle to all of us in sharing with us your wisdom. I am told that, in Bahasa Indonesia, 'Bapa' denotes respect in reference to a 'father' or an 'elder.' Regardless of its definition whether in Kapampangan... or Bahasa Indonesia, 'Bapa' is a word attributed to an elder held in high esteem, which perfectly describes Your Excellency," Aquino said. "And it is as such that I pay tribute to you tonight by conferring on you, as a mark of the appreciation and esteem of our Republic, our highest order of diplomatic merit—the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Raja."
Aquino pointed out the racial links between the Philippines and Indonesia, which he feels came in very handy in resolving a potential maritime border dispute.
Earlier in the day, the 2 countries signed an agreement delineating their maritime borders. “Tonight... the Philippines and Indonesia celebrate our shared history, heritage, and aspirations. Ours is a solidarity that dates back to the ancient foundation of our society, as a maritime people bound by trade, by culture, and by converging bloodlines," Aquino said.
"As true brothers, we also celebrate the fact that we have resolved a concern between us in an amicable manner, as demonstrated in the agreement we reached as regards our exclusive economic zones in the Celebes Sea and the Mindanao Sea. This, I believe, serves as an important reminder of what can be achieved when parties come to the table with a sincere commitment to engage in meaningful dialogue, and uphold the rule of law," he added.
Aquino likewise touted Yudhoyono's other help to the Philippines. "The Filipino people are grateful for the sustained support your government and the people of Indonesia have shown for our peace process and security. Indonesia has always spoken in support of the Philippines and our endeavors in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We also deeply appreciate Indonesia’s overwhelming humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan."
This is Yudhoyono's first state visit to the country. He will step down from office next month.
Indonesia, as the largest country in the Association of Southeast Asian nations, has been described as the bloc’s honorary leader.
For Aquino, Yudhoyono embodied this.
“May I apologize in advance, if I mispronounce the following Bahasa Indonesian words: President Yudhoyono has been a 'Kakak laki-laki' to everyone in ASEAN. [Laughter and applause] I am told that 'laki-laki' pertains to 'man' in your language, while in Filipino 'laki' means 'big.' [Laughter] So we can really say that President Yudhoyono is not only our big brother but also our 'laki' charm. [Laughter and applause] Indeed: I have so much confidence in Your Excellency—that when I hear that Indonesia is doing so well, I say to myself: SBY must be why."
Yudhoyono reciprocated and also offered a toast in Aquino's honor. "I am humbled that your government accorded me with the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Raja. I accept this honor as a symbol of close friendship between our two countries and nations. I also accept this honor on behalf of the people of Indonesia."
In that speech, Yudhoyono paid tribute not only to Aquino, but to the Philippines. "It is not surprising that the Philippines has been designated as Asia's bright spot and the new Asian tiger by a number of international media. Such economic successes cannot be separated from your effort to eradicate corruption. My visit to the Philippines is truly special as our diplomatic relations are reaching 65 years. In less than a century, the Philippines has become one of Indonesia’s most important partners for prosperity, peace and stability."
Yudhoyono amplified his country’s desire to further deepen economic ties. "I am glad that Your Excellency has supported my suggestion to organize a business-to-business meeting to chart a clear business roadmap for the future. We have agreed to bring together our business communities within the next two months."
He also spoke about cooperation in disaster management. The Philippines is looking at Indonesia's experience in rebuilding Banda Aceh after the Asian tsunami as it rebuilds areas destroyed by Yolanda.
"As our countries are very prone to natural disaster, we have also agreed to strengthen cooperation in disaster mitigation. In fact, we have a good track record of such cooperation, such as during the aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh and Yolanda typhoon in the southern Philippines," the Indonesian leader said.
Indonesia, like the Philippines is an archipelagic country. Both are also known be among the top sources of expatriate workers.
Yudhoyono said, “In relation to what we have been pursuing together, I propose that we strengthen cooperation on migrant worker issues. As the two largest sources of migrant workers, I believe we need to ensure that the rights of our migrant workers are respected by the host countries. I am pleased that we have made progress in our migrant protections in ASEAN.”
The Indonesian delegation was feted with a state dinner with a menu that included kaffir lime tuna and salmon, mango and kilawin dressing, herbal chrysanthemum tea consommé, caramelized lemongrass crusted beef tenderloin, muscovado molten chocolate cake, and queso de bola ice cream.
They were entertained by Fitri Cerrado, the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, Klarisse de Guzman, AMP big band, and Christian Bautista.