As fighting between terrorists and government forces in Mindanao continues, the Philippine government has rolled out countermeasures to prevent the escape of members of the ISIS-inspired Maute group via maritime routes. Manila has announced two major maritime security initiatives to prevent ISIS-inspired militants from fleeing to neighboring islands near the Malaysian and Indonesian borders.
Making its first move, the Philippine government signed a maritime security agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia to hold joint trilateral naval patrols in the Philippine-Malaysia-Indonesia maritime border area.
Under the joint naval collaborative program, called Indomaphil, the three nations agreed that their naval assets will be allowed to enter any of the three countries’ maritime territory when pursuing terrorist suspects. In a joint statement, the three nations said that “the collaboration is to prevent extremists from making Southeast Asia or any country a base for their operations.”
The Philippine military says that the terrorists in Marawi are not only Filipinos. Some of them were reported to be nationals from Malaysia, Indonesia and Middle East. Defense officials say that one of the challenges of fighting terror in Southeast Asia is that the terrorists can move to three different countries in less than 24 hours.
Aside from the ASEAN collaboration, the Philippine government is also intensifying security measures in Philippine ports to thwart terror attacks from the local terrorist group.
The demand for intense security developed when three members of the ISIS-inspired Maute group attempted to use seaports for their escape. With close monitoring and intensified port security, the three suspects were arrested in the port of Iloilo, Panay on board a ship arriving from Mindanao. The Philippine Coast Guard alerted the sea marshall upon receiving intelligence reports that suspected terrorists were on board the ship and the suspects were eventually caught.
Commodore Joel Garcia, officer-in-charge of the PCG attributed the success of the arrested suspects to the vigilance of shipping companies. “Security will always be dependent on the cooperation of shipping companies to the Coast Guard,” Garcia told Philippine journalists.
While countermeasures to prevent terrorist violence on the sea are already in place, the Coast Guard will also be deploying manpower in tourist beach resorts that could be a potential target of terrorists’ kidnapping and bombing attacks.
But despite the intensified security measures on the Philippine-Malaysia-Indonesia border, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP) has warned shipowners to reroute their vessels to avoid identified threats in the region.
ReCAAP was referring to the Sulu and Celebes seas, where two Vietnamese sailors were abducted and later beheaded by suspected terrorists after the victims’ families failed to deliver a ransom. ReCAAP reports that about 59 crew members have been abducted in the Sulu Celebes seas and the Malaysian border of Eastern Sabah since last year, and the abductors have been reported to demand huge ransoms for the release of their captives. The Asian media report that the same abductors have raked in at least $12 million from their maritime kidnapping and extortion activities in the region.