Marcos' ASEAN debut recap: Stronger bilateral ties; multiple initiatives pushed

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is concluding his debut at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) without any missed chances.

The President's four-day stay here was packed with business meetings, attendance in various gatherings with fellow state leaders, five bilateral talks and a meet and greet with the Filipino community.

Marcos is leaving for Manila on Sunday night after arriving here on Wednesday, bringing with him Philippine strengthened ties with Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei, South Korea and Canada.

President Marcos attends 40th and 41st ASEAN and Related Summits in Cambodia (Office of the Press Secretary)

His pitch for more investments to transform the post-pandemic Philippine economy could also come true as Cambodian business leaders agreed to work with the country on agriculture, low-cost housing and digitalization. Marcos eyed building one million units of low-cost housing every year.

He also lobbied his concerns on the South China Sea, Myanmar crisis, Russia-Ukraine conflict, economy and climate change before his fellow leaders.

Bilateral talks

At the sidelines of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits and Related Summits, Marcos sat down with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on different days for bilateral discussions.

With Cambodia and Vietnam, Marcos secured strengthened partnership on the agriculture sector to ensure food security.

The President also tackled defense and maritime security with Vietnam amid a volatile Indo-Pacific region.

Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Daniel Espiritu said in a press conference here there was "no specific discussion" on how to strengthen maritime partnership, although Office of the Press Secretary Office-in-Charge Cheloy Garafil said Marcos pushed for continued dialogues on these matters, including intelligence and strategies exchanges in dealing with maritime concerns, as these would be beneficial for both countries.

South Korea agreed to elevate relations with the Philippines for security and infrastructure.

"I do believe that it is time that we start to work to elevate our bilateral relations to a strategic partnership. Our newly launched bilateral platforms on science and technology, fisheries, cooperation and maritime cooperation, all contribute to the deepening of this engagement," the President told his South Korean counterpart.

What's not yet clear is if there was discussion on the free-trade agreement, which was expected from the two sides to bolster the economy. If it happened, South Korea would be the second partner of the Philippines with a free-trade setup after Japan.

Meanwhile, Brunei promised to help the Philippines in ensuring peace and stability, particularly in the Mindanao region, which is facing threats of terrorism and instability.

The Brunei Sultanate, in fact, helped in the peace process in the southern part of the country, which Marcos acknowledged.


There were 12 summits that the President participated in. They were: the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, 25th ASEAN-China Summit, 23rd ASEAN-South Korea Summit, ASEAN-United Nations Summit, 25th ASEAN PLUS THREE Summit, 19th ASEAN-India Summit, 2nd ASEAN-Australia Summit, 25th ASEAN-Japan Summit, 10th ASEAN-US Summit, ASEAN-Canada Commemorative Summit, 2nd ASEAN Global Dialogue and 17th East Asia Summit.

Marcos took the chance during these summits to raise pressing concerns of the Philippines and of the regional bloc.

There, he pushed for the speedy implementation of the Five-Point Consensus—a peace treaty for junta-ruled Myanmar; called on Ukraine and Russia to return to diplomacy and consider the effect of the conflict to their peoples; agreed to allow East Timor's eventual membership in the bloc; and urged North Korea to comply with UN resolutions in light of its recent ballistic missile launches.

He also pressured South China Sea claimants to come up with the Code of Conduct; asked the US to use its clout to tame rising fuel prices; demanded for climate actions and for the assurance of food security; and bat for ASEAN unity and Centrality amid challenges, including dynamic tensions.

Marcos asked for ASEAN's cooperation with several dialogue partners to ensure enough supply of vaccines and medicines, combat transnational crimes and maintain peace in the Southeast Asian and the Indo-Pacific regions.

At the sidelines, the President had brief conversations with China Premier Li Keqiang, who assured him of China's cooperation to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea based on mutual respect; as well as with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

During a breakfast meeting with World Economic Forum (WEF) Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab on Fridat, Marcos was invited to the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on January 16-20, 2023 as his attendance would servea good opportunity to let the global business community know about the dynamism and positive developments happening in the Philippines.