KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.
The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”
“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.
The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.
Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.
The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.
Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”
Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.
Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.
Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.
The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.
Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.
“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.
Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.
The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.
On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.