MANILA — Seven months into his term, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has flown overseas in an official capacity eight times.
His inaugural trip as Philippine President was a 3-day state visit in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
The Sept. 4-6, 2022 trip saw the signing of several bilateral agreements, and Manila asking Jakarta to grant an executive clemency for Filipina death row convict Mary Jane Veloso, who was sentenced to death for possession of illegal drugs.
Malacañang said some $8.48 billion in investment pledges, which were expected to generate around 7,000 jobs, were generated during the Indonesia visit.
From Jakarta, Marcos flew straight to Singapore, the lone first world economy in the region, for another state visit.
Investors from the city state pledged to bring in some $6.5-billion worth of businesses to the Philippines, particularly in the transportation, energy and technology sectors.
That same month, Marcos embarked on his third international trip, this time to the United States for the 77th United Nations General Assembly.
The 6-day trip netted $3.9 billion in investment pledges for the Philippines and some 112,000 potential jobs.
Aside from delivering a speech before the UNGA and ringing the trading bell in the New York Stock Exchange, the world’s largest stock market, it was also in New York where Marcos had the opportunity to meet various heads of states for the first time, including US President Joe Biden.
Then, the President went on what the Palace called a semi-official trip to Singapore for the F1 Grand Prix, upon the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This drew public outrage, as neither Marcos or Malacañang made prior announcements about it.
Days after the races wrapped up, Marcos in a social media post described his F1 weekend as the “best way to drum up business” for the Philippines.
Fast forward to November, the President jetted to Cambodia to attend the 40th and 41st Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits and related meetings. It was Marcos' debut on the ASEAN stage.
Among the world leaders he met during his trip to Phnom Penh were Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Three days after returning from Cambodia, Marcos set off to Thailand to attend the 29th Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Marcos delivered a speech before the business community and attended bilateral meetings with the leaders of China, Saudi Arabia, France and New Zealand on the sidelines of the event.
It was in Bangkok where Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in person for the first time. It was perceived to set the tone for the Philippine leader’s state visit to China early this year.
During Marcos' meeting with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman in the Thai capital, the largest Arab nation pledged to set aside 2 billion riyals to cover the unpaid wages of Filipino workers who were abandoned by their Saudi contractors due to bankruptcy.
Filipino workers were hoping to receive their back wages in December, but Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Toots Ople said that the Saudi government asked for more time to settle some issues before money is released.
Before 2022 came to a close, Marcos traveled to Belgium to attend a summit between leaders from ASEAN and the European Union.
Malacañang said some P9.8 billion in investment pledges were made during that 3-day working visit.
Marcos welcomed 2023 with a state visit to China, despite an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Asia’s largest economy.
The President said he brought home nearly $23 billion in investment pledges and 14 bilateral agreements that are expected to bolster Manila-Beijing relations despite the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Of that amount, $13.7 billion is meant for the development of the Philippines’ renewable energy sector, Malacañang had said.
The Durian Industry Association of Davao City — who joined the trip to Beijing — said the Philippines committed to export at least 54,000 metric tons of durian.
The deal with the world’s largest importer of durian is pegged at $150 million, DIADC officials said.
The 54,000-metric ton commitment is over 20 times higher than the 2,700 metric tons of durian the Philippines exported to Singapore, Australia, Thailand and other countries in 2020, said Emmanuel Belviz, president of DIADC.
Unlike commitments made by the business sector from other countries, some parts of the $22.8-billion investment pledges from China are “backed up already by concrete actions in the Philippines,” Marcos said in a press conference before coming home from Beijing.
“Nagbubukas na sila ng opisina, kumukuha na sila ng mga permit. Yung mga nakakuha na ng permit, nag-uumpisa na sila ng construction,” he said.
(They are already starting to open offices and getting permits. Those who have secured permits have commenced construction.)
Currently, Marcos is in Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Palace reporters have been asking Malacañang for a list of members of the Philippines' delegation to the WEF as well as the cost for the trips.
Malacañang officials have yet to respond to queries.
A presidential trip to Japan, meanwhile, has been set for next month.
'HARDSELLING TOO MUCH?'
While the President is considered as the best salesman of the country, former NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia told ANC, "From another angle, it also looks like he is hardselling the Philippines too much.”
NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon justified the President’s overseas trips, saying: “It will also be a good thing to be aware of the solutions being done in other countries and if possible, get them to provide technical assistance to our agriculture sector.”
Marcos, whose term ends in June 2028, is concurrently Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel does not see anything wrong with the President's frequent foreign trips, saying he can make use of technology to still lead the country while abroad.
"On the frequency, I think he's just honoring the invitations extended to him. Ok din po yun because that's part of our international relations," the opposition lawmaker said.
"On the number of the delegation, I think our business people are paying for their trip, for their own expenses. We will come back to this issue during the next budget cycle because the OP has traveling expenses. It has also confidential and intelligence funds to the tune of billions of pesos," he added.
"Tatanungin natin ngayon kung naubos ba yung traveling expenses? What did they use to supplement the item for traveling kung naubos yan?"
TRAVELS OF PAST PRESIDENTS
Data from ABS-CBN’s Research and Investigative Group shows that so far, former President Rodrigo Duterte is the country's chief executive who had the most number of foreign trips during his first year in office.
Duterte flew to 21 countries between June 2016 and 2017, with two trips each to Cambodia, China and Thailand.
Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ranks second with 11 foreign trips in her first year in office from January 2001 to January 2002.
Arroyo flew to Brunei and China twice in her maiden year as president.
Former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Fidel V. Ramos each had eight trips during their respective first 12 months as chief executive.
The late President Benigno Aquino III flew to six destinations in his first year as the country's leader.
Marcos' father and namesake, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., traveled to two countries in his freshman year as head of the Philippines.
On the other hand, former presidents Carlos P. Garcia, Manuel L. Quezon and Elpidio Quirino just stayed in the country during their first year in office.
The United States topped the list of destinations visited by Philippine presidents during their first year in office, with 9 out of 17 chief executives traveling there in their first year in office.
Indonesia, Japan and Singapore ranked as the second most visited foreign country by Philippine presidents in their first 12 months in office.
China and Thailand are on the third spot.
FROM THE ARCHIVE