Philippines, Indonesia Agree to Boost Joint Maritime Border Patrols

Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao, Philippines
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191120-PH-patrols-1000.jpg Security forces from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines demonstrate skills during a drill at the Subang military airbase in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Oct. 12, 2017.

The Philippines and Indonesia have agreed to intensify joint maritime security patrols to check the movements of terrorists across their porous borders, military officials from both nations said Wednesday.

Naval officials forged the security arrangement two years after the neighboring countries launched air and maritime patrols with Malaysia in a bid to combat kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf, a militant group based in the southern Philippines.

Manila and Jakarta agreed to boost their maritime operations during the three-day Philippines-Indonesia Border Committee Chairmen’s Conference that began in the southern Philippine city of Davao on Tuesday.

The joint patrols aim “to review and strengthen the existing measures to ensure the safe passage of the respective nationals of both countries, to include the protection of fisher folks in the border areas en route to the fishing grounds at high seas,” Lt. Col. Ezra Balagtey, spokesman for the Philippine military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said in a statement Wednesday.

Conference delegates were reviewing the so-called 1975 Border Patrol and Border Crossing Agreements between the Southeast Asian neighbors and would “recommend amendments of its provisions to be attuned to the prevailing situation in maritime security and terrorism in both countries,” Balagtey said.

Members of the border committee also held a meeting in the Philippines in January 2018, during which they similarly agreed to elevate cooperation on maritime security. That agreement came days after Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao, the Philippine leader’s hometown.

The intensified patrols aim “to prevent the utilization of our respective territorial waters as an avenue for the proliferation of terrorism and other transnational crimes,” a joint statement issued by the two countries’ border committee chairmen said at the time.

“This kind of friendship between the two countries can help resolve any problem,” Indonesian First Admiral Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta was quoted as saying then by the state-owned Philippine News Agency.

“We need each other,” he said.

It was not immediately clear how the frequency of existing border patrols would be changed as a result of the agreement. It is common for military officials in the southern Philippine to decline requests for figures on security-related issues.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are bracing for retaliatory attacks after the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria collapsed in March, leading to a push from a U.S.-backed coalition for captured IS-affiliated fighters, including many from Southeast Asia, to be returned to their home countries.

Didik Novi Rahmanto, chief of the Counter-Foreign Terrorist Fighters Task Force at Indonesia’s Densus 88 anti-terrorist police unit, told BenarNews in early November that Jakarta was ready to accept its citizens from Syria.

“We are prepared to deal with them,” Didik said.

He said at least 28 Indonesian IS detainees were believed to be among those who were abandoned by forces from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of the SDF.

The Islamic State's defeat of  in Syria ushered in complex issues, including the extradition – or legal proceedings – for captured foreign militant fighters, as well as their wives and children.

Malaysia and Indonesia are accepting returnees on a conditional basis.

Citing data from border authorities in Syria, Indonesian officials reported that at least 1,321 Indonesians had joined IS or tried to enlist. Of that number, 84 were killed, 482 were deported while trying to enter Syria. Officials said at least 62 had returned from the Middle East.

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines began trilateral patrols in June last year after pro-IS militants launched a siege in the southern Philippine city of Marawi. Five months of vicious fighting ended in October 2017 and killed at least 1,200 people, mostly militants, including the acknowledged Philippine IS leader, Isnilon Hapilon, and several foreign fighters.

Malaysia’s Sabah state is a short boat ride from islands in the Philippines’ Mindanao region, where pro-IS Muslim guerrillas and other armed Muslim groups operate. The waters between the two countries are extremely porous. According to analysts, the three nations share coastal borders that have long been used for smuggling routes.


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