On Monday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano announced that Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is planning a trilateral conference with the Philippines and Malaysia to discuss the situation in Marawi City. Several Malaysian and Indonesian terrorists have been killed in the ongoing Marawi City siege. Philippine insurgent and terrorist groups in Mindanao have long provided safe haven to Malaysian and Indonesian terrorists on the lam.
This offer from Indonesia is just the latest example of cooperation between these three Celebes Sea neighbours in relation to the Moro Islamic insurgency in Mindanao. Indonesia was the third-party mediator for the peace talks that led to the 1996 agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Government of the Philippines, while Malaysia was the third-party mediator for the peace talks that led to the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the same parties.
Next week, these three countries are to start regular joint patrols in the Sulu and Celebes Sea to counter a spate of kidnappings by Philippine terrorist groups of Malaysian and Indonesian vessels in the Sulu Sea and the largely unrestricted transit of terrorists between the three countries. The Philippine Department of National Defense estimates that up to 40 foreign terrorists have used the Sulu Sea as their pathway to join the Marawi City siege.
These joint patrols, first agreed to last April, could significantly reduce the maritime surveillance shortcomings of the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard in the Sulu Sea (especially if they include President Rodrigo Duterte's suggestion that the right of hot pursuit into territorial waters is incorporated into them). This should help counter piracy from Mindanao and the free flow of terrorists across the Sulu Sea to the benefit of all three countries. These joint patrols also signify a sage decision by Malaysia and the Philippines to not let their long-standing territorial dispute over Sabah preclude much-needed counter-terrorism and counter-piracy cooperation. Other East Asian countries with territorial and maritime rights disputes have shown much less strategic maturity.