The Philippine and Indonesian militaries said Tuesday they had agreed to boost cooperation to monitor cross-border movements of their respective nationals, such as by establishing a “hotline” to alert one another about security and terrorist threats along their shared frontier.
The neighboring countries agreed to the pact after a two-day meeting of a joint border committee that ended Tuesday, a week after President Rodrigo Duterte met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi here. During their meeting Duterte and Retno agreed that their countries would “intensify the conduct of coordinated patrol operations” to enhance maritime security, a joint statement said.
The pact also aims “to prevent the utilization of our respective territorial waters as an avenue for the proliferation of terrorism and other transnational crimes,” said the statement, which was signed by the Philippine military’s regional chief, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, and his Indonesian counterpart, Rear Adm. Didik Setiyono.
Noting that the two archipelagic countries had “porous shorelines,” both agreed to increase the number of Border Crossing Stations to increase surveillance and facilitate the entry of citizens of the two Southeast Asian nations.
“This effort will provide a systematic scheme in closely monitoring the entry and exit of the nationals of both countries with the hands-on involvement of each country’s immigration, quarantine and customs bureaus,” the joint statement said.
The Philippines and Indonesia also agreed to boost measures at ensuring that Indonesian and Filipino fishermen were assured of safe passage and protection in the high seas, it said.
The joint border committee also decided to set up a “definitive hotline” between the naval commanders of both countries to immediately address “developing situations and other challenges.” It did not expound on what these challenges were, but Filipino officials who were at the meeting said it was generally understood to mean “terrorism.”
“On the part of the Republic of the Philippines, we have discussed with our friends from Indonesia several agenda items focused on enhancing our maritime security that will contribute to our efforts in countering terrorism and transnational crimes in close coordination between our navies and coast guards through the conduct of an enhanced coordinated patrol in our common borders,” Madrigal said.
The Philippines, he said, had also pushed for the inclusion of other state agencies in the joint border effort, though there was no immediate answer regarding this.
The agreement comes more than two months after the Philippines defeated Islamic State-linked militants who had occupied the southern city of Marawi, where they were joined by militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
When the fighting broke out in May, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore extended intelligence help and increased border security to thwart possible movements of militants across the frontiers.
The Philippines defeated the militants in October, after Isnilon Hapilon and his men took over Marawi, provoking the worst fighting that the Philippines had seen in years. Hapilon was killed in Marawi, but the once prosperous city remains in ruins and the military has been pursuing remnants of the Filipino militants who dispersed across central Mindanao region.
More than 1,000 combatants and civilians died in the five-month battle.