MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are considering joint patrols of their sea borders to combat piracy, smuggling and the movement of al-Qaida-linked militants, a top defense official said Thursday.
The proposal was discussed when Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met earlier this week with his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts, who traveled to the Philippines to visit their troops involved in efforts to strengthen a cease-fire between Filipino forces and Muslim guerrillas in the south.
The Philippines has considered joint naval patrols with either Indonesia or Malaysia in the past but a three-way effort would vastly improve security in the volatile region, Gazmin said.
The Southeast Asian nations share sea borders where human and arms smuggling, piracy and the movement of militants from al-Qaida-linked have long been a concern.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen crossed the border in speedboats and snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort and brought them to jungle strongholds in the southern Philippines, where the captives were later ransomed off.
Indonesia has also been concerned with the smuggling of firearms from the southern Philippines to Indonesia, where they could fall in the hands of Islamic militants.
Gazmin said authorities from the three countries would study the proposed joint naval patrols, along with real-time information exchanges and rapid-response arrangements to deal with emergencies at sea and cross-border crimes.