Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines launch naval patrols
First published: 4:12 p.m., June 19, 2017
Warships from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines held maneuvers on Monday near a naval base in northern Borneo to mark the launch of coordinated patrols to beef up security in waters plagued by insurgencies and banditry.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said an agreement between the three countries aimed to stop piracy and kidnappings on the high seas in the South, particularly by Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Movement of fugitives
“Hopefully, this will address the problem of our porous borders. We will have patrols to, first of all, prevent abductions on the high seas, and, more than that, [prevent] the movement of … fugitives from one country to another,” Padilla said.
“[These fugitives are] seeking haven in these parts as well as providing assistance to the groups of jihadis in these areas,” he said.
The AFP is currently battling Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi who were trying to set up a “caliphate” in the city and its surrounding areas.
The AFP has said that some of the terrorists, made up of foreign fighters and local bandits who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group, may have mingled with evacuees to slip away during the battle of Marawi.
The military said it had killed at least eight foreign fighters—two Malaysians, two Indonesians, two Saudi Arabians, a Yemeni, and a Chechen—in Marawi.
The tightening of security in the southern waters followed President Duterte’s agreement with Indonesian President Joko Widodo last year for joint operations between Philippine and Indonesian coast guards to combat crime in the seas between the two countries.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also agreed in May last year to conduct joint patrols and share intelligence after a series of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf, a bandit group operating in southern Philippines and allied with the Maute terrorist group battling government troops in Marawi City.
During the weekend, Indonesia deployed three Sukhoi fighters to help with security in case terrorists try to flee Marawi and head toward Indonesia.
Indonesia’s military chief, Gatot Nurmantyo, said the patrols were timely as his country tried to stop any terrorists from Marawi escaping to Indonesia while posing as refugees.
Foreign terrorists, particularly those with links with the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terror network, have also used lawless areas in Mindanao as safe havens where they teach their local allies bomb making and train them in terror tactics.
Abu Sayyaf bandits, particularly the faction based in Sulu, have intensified their kidnapping operations in the Sulu Sea.
“The objective of the trilateral border agreement is to reinforce the security in this common area,” Padilla said.
“These abductions at sea are put to an end and the movement of potential armed elements, any jihadist organizations or any armed organizations, will not go through all these porous borders because of that heightened security,” he added.
Quoting the agreement, Padilla said the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines could pursue targets beyond their country’s maritime boundaries.
“In hot pursuit operations, [the treaty allows the navies of Malaysia and Indonesia] to enter cross boundaries until the other side can take over the pursuit of the target,” he said.
“It is also the same for us. If we are pursuing, we can go beyond international waters into their territory in pursuit of that threat,” he added.
Maritime command centers
The three countries also set up maritime command centers—in Tarakan for Indonesia, Tawau for Malaysia and Bongao for the Philippines—to collect information and coordinate the patrols.
Helicopters and surveillance planes flew overhead as ministers and military chiefs from the three countries attended ceremonies in Tarakan on Monday to launch the patrols and as regional security took on added urgency after the terrorist attack on Marawi.
A port town, Tarakan is just south of the Malaysian side of Borneo and looks out across to Mindanao in southern Philippines, a sprawling island that has suffered from piracy and kidnapping for decades.
Singapore and Brunei also attended the launch of patrols as observers. —With reports from the wires
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