PH, neighbors step up security in Sulu Sea
THE DEFENSE ministers of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to step up collaborative efforts against rising criminality, piracy, kidnapping and smuggling in the Sulu Sea.
The Philippines’ Voltaire Gazmin, Malaysia’s Hishammuddin Hussein and Indonesia’s Ryamizard Ryacudu made the deal on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Defense Ministers Meeting in Vientiane, Laos.
Of crucial importance is the area of the Sulu Sea, which is a common border to all three countries.
The Sulu Sea is a popular shipping route for cargo and passenger ships, with some vessels falling prey to piracy and kidnapping, while others use the route for smuggling.
During their informal meeting in Laos last week, the three defense ministers agreed to pursue joint training exercises.
Ryacudu suggested joint exercises be conducted at least twice a year. Gazmin noted, however, that the Philippines did not have a status of visiting forces agreement with both countries.
Because of this, the Philippines may only conduct joint exercises in the high seas and not within the country’s territorial waters.
The three defense officials also agreed to use existing platforms in undertaking joint patrols, as the Philippines regularly conducts coordinated patrols with Indonesia while the Philippines has an antismuggling agreement with Malaysia.
The coordinated patrol is in accordance with the Joint Declaration on Immediate Measures in the Maritime Areas of Common Concern which was signed by the three countries’ foreign ministers and military chiefs on May 5.
“A framework and subsequently a standard operating procedure are currently being crafted among the respective technical level officers,” the Department of National Defense said in a statement.
The three defense ministers also agreed to ensure the timely sharing of relevant information, ordering their intelligence units to be more open in sharing databases on criminals.
Indonesia, through Ryacudu, also proposed to establish joint posts of coordination within the three countries’ borders.