Maphilindo: Malays’ Unrelenting Aspiration for Regional Integration

Top (L to R): Prime Minister Rahman (Malaysia), President Macapagal (Philippines) and President Sukarno (Indonesia)

Bottom (L to R): Foreign Ministers Razak (Malaysia), Pelaez (Philippines) and Subandrio (Indonesia)

The Malays in Southeast Asia through ups and downs and changes of history, such names as Srivijaya and Majapahit have always been the echo of a golden past that haunt the Malay mind and nurture an everlasting aspiration for integration.

That aspiration has coalesced into Maphilindo consciousness or Maphilindoism. While Maphilindoism did not succeed in form due to powerful external forces, Maphilindoism still is and will continue to be the ideal torchlight that guides future integration efforts. This ideal rises above nepotism, profiteerism, and especially conspiracies to push the whole region into the slaving yoke of one empire or another.

Thus, to talk about Maphilindonism is to refer to the ideal of integrating Southeast Asia, not only the archipelago but also the continent on the basis of “brotherhood by birth”, irrespective of differing religious faith and political philosophies. To review past aspirations and efforts of integration is to discover for oneself lessons for all future efforts.

In Indonesia, communist leader Tan Malaka was not as concerned about racial issues as Filipino leaders, but only considered a large socialist federation that included both Southeast Asia and Australia which he called “Aslia”.

The will to integrate was noted as early as in the 19th century when the entire region was still under the dark period of western colonization. José Rizal and Apolinario, Filipino revolutionaries, once aimed at establishing a unified Malayan entity comprising Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia under the Netherland, Malay Peninsula and the Philippines. In the 1930s, the slogan “Malay revival” was used by the Filipino Youth wing of Filipino university students as an expression of struggle.

In 1961, Indonesian foreign minister Subandrio declared to the United Nations general assembly: “In truth, peoples of Malay origin sincerely want to integrate and focus all national efforts on common objectives in politics, economics as well as culture. Malay Federation premier Tunku Abdul Rahman enthusiastically endorsed this notion.”

Indeed, the Malay in the Malay Federation considered the integration of Southeast Asian islands as a way to get out from under the Chinese silent invasion of Malaysia.

In a 1959 Manila visit, Rahman passionately called on Filipinos to unite with “Malay-origin brothers”. He also talked about “the revival of the Malay race after a period of division due to Western domination” leading to “efforts to build closer integration among peoples of Malay origin in the whole region”.

In the same year, Edwardo L. Martelino, a Filipino author published a book entitled Someday Malaysia advocating the formation of a federation consisting of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

In July 1962, because of disputes in North Borneo between countries in the region, Philippines president Macapagal called on peoples of Malay origin to make sure to use the racial kinship to overcome enmities by the narrow desire of nationalist expansionism.

He argued that “that is the main work that we Malays must do ourselves” and suggested “a version of Federation of Greater Malaysia, initially formed by the integration of the Malaysia peninsular, Philippines, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo.”

This initial union would be open for Indonesia to join when convenient. According to him still, “with this form, the Southeast Asia island region will become a unified federation with excellent foundations of politics, economy, culture and geography.”

After Malaysia and Great Britain agreed to establish the Malay Federation, disputes between Indonesia and Malaysia had become testier, especially after the armed uprising of the Rakyat Party in Brunei in December, 1962.

In the first few months of 1963, back to back confrontations between the two countries were thought to have caused irreparable fissures, but thanks great internal efforts to make peace, Sukarno and Rahman agreed to meet in Tokyo on May 31 and June 1, 1963. The meeting opened the way for subsequent negotiations.

From June 7 to 11, 1963, foreign ministers of the Philippines (Pelaez), Indonesia (Subandrio) and Malaysia (Razak) met in Manila. This conference produced the Manila Agreement, while not clearly indicating any specific directions, was nevertheless a consensus to resolve the regional problems peacefully and in a true brotherhood spirit.

This meeting opened way for the decisive summit between Sukarno, Macapagal and Rahman in Manila from July 30 to August 5, 1963. On the first day, the three leaders signed the agreements previously reached by their foreign ministers in June. Later, the conference produced two documents: the Manila Declaration and the Joint Declaration.

In the Joint Declaration, the three countries affirmed that: Malay nations currently hosting temporary foreign military bases must guarantee that these bases will not be used to directly or indirectly destabilize of the independence of other Malay nations.

The Joint Declaration also emphasized “Regional peace and security depend primarily on the governments and people of the countries concerned. The three governments must keep close consultations regarding these issues.”

The Manila Declaration described the three brotherly Malayan countries as closely cooperating in the “fight against colonialism and imperialism”.

Most importantly, the declaration stressed the three-nation summit as “the first steps leading to the establishment of the Maphilindo Federation”, a union of Southeast Asia islands Malays, the most populous and significant surviving ethnic group of the great race of Bách Việt.

The Manila echo was ecstatically and trustingly received among the Malay masses. Maphilindo was talked about everywhere, so much that to many people Maphilindo had almost become a real entity.

A Filipino writer proudly recalled that when visiting the Federation of Malaysia and Republic of Indonesia, to the question his country or origin, his answering was not hesitant: “I am a citizen of the Federation of Maphilindo”.

But what about the leaders of the three nations? Immediately after the high-level meeting, when the light of the joint victory of Maphilindo was still illuminating from the summit, the three leaders quietly turned to three different directions.

Malaysia pursued the formation of the Federation of Malaysia (officially born on September 16, 1963) and integrated more closely with its British masters. Two powerful groups in Malaysia, politicians of the Malay feudal classes and Chinese businessmen, both tended to distance themselves from Jakarta, so Malaysia itself gradually dampened the Maphilindo fire in its population.

The Philippines, still under strong American influence, soon forgot “the original force of Malay brotherhood” and gave to Maphilindo its own anti-communist, pro-American flair. Filipino politicians claimed that Communist China was the original force pushing the three Malay nations closer together for mutual support, cooperation and unification.

The Filipino press also observed “The Malay people have found a common denominator for unification – it is the Communist China threat”. Even President Macagapal once asserted that Beijing was a long-term danger for the Malay world, and that: Indonesia with its powerful resources would play a leading international role in opposing China’s expansion and adventure.

To Sukarno, his leadership of the Malay world was considered de facto. After the Manila summit, Jakarta appointed itself to the responsibility for regional security and insisted that the Malay world was in its sphere of influence.

Sukarno said “Indonesia recognized its authority and responsibility in protecting regional security and peace for neighbours Philippines and Malaysia.” Going further, Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army asserted that Indonesia was responsible for the security and stability of the whole Southeast Asian region on the basis of Maphilindonism.

In summary, leading the Malay league was alright, but not to oppose China as the Philippines wanted.

Indonesia’s antagonist at that time was entirely the capitalist empire, specifically the U.S. and Great Britain. Internally, the Indonesian Communist party became stronger everyday, heavily influencing Sukarno’s foreign policy, a main reason driving Indonesia to launch a war against Malaysia.

If Maphilindo gave many people hope in the beginning, it also disappointed many people in the end. In 1964, Kampuchea was very interested in the proposal to expand Maphilindo (hopefully to reduce Indonesia’s control) by the Philippines and so Sihanouk promised to join when Maphilindo was officially formed.

But, Maphilindo was never officially formed!

Nevertheless, on August 8, 1967, Foreign Ministers Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R. Ramos of the Philippines, Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand met at the Tai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand, and signed the historic Bangkok Declaration (now known as the ASEAN Declaration).

It affirmed ASEAN’s major aims for an integrated and orchestrated regional economic growth, social progress and cultural development, protection of regional peace and stability, and peaceful settlement of differences among member-states.

ASEAN’s motto of “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” encapsulates this envisioned unity of people of this region of the world.

We owe it to the foresight of the forefathers of the Malay peoples, The Srivijayan Empire (A.D. 3rd-13th Century) and the Majapahit Empire A.D. 13th-16th) who once unified the peoples of Southeast Asia. They continue to be the source of aspirations to the laying down of these ASEAN’s foundations, and perhaps eventual political integration of transforming ASEAN into Federation of South East Asian Nations, to become world’s third largest economies, doubling that of the American, beating USA to fourth position:

Note: Even at ‘Maphilindo Federation’ position, we are already ahead of the American.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. As salam,
    My late father would have been elated had he lived to read this post.
    Would very much like to share this on blog and FB.
    Thank you.

    1. sandiwara says:

      Wa as-salaam. Please feel free to do that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s