Illicit ActivitySoutheast Asia

Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines renew commitment to cooperation

Gusty Da Costa

Joint sea and air patrols conducted by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines under the 2017 Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) continue to demonstrate success and remain critical to Indo-Pacific maritime security, according to officials and analysts. The three countries agreed in June to build on their cooperative efforts going forward.

Regular patrols, coordination and intelligence sharing established by the TCA are known as INDOMALPHI. The patrols have successfully countered threats including piracy and terrorism with no reported threat events in the first six months of 2023, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense. This compares to 99 reports of piracy and armed robbery in 2017 in the patrol area.

“The result of the coordinated patrols can be felt in the form of the reduction of crime rates, the reduction of violation of law and violation of territory, and the reduction of security disturbances in the operation areas, especially in the border region of the three participating countries,” Indonesian Navy spokesperson Col. I Made Wira Hady Arsanta told FORUM.

In mid-June, government officials from the three countries agreed to strengthen their cooperation through a trilateral port visit, maritime training activities and the 2024 resumption of the Joint Mission Patrol Team, which had previously been suspended due to COVID-19 constraints. The expansion agreement came during the 21st INDOMALPHI Joint Working Group (JWG) Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 14.

In addition to keeping bad actors at bay, INDOMALPHI cooperation won praise at the JWG meeting for its role in the February rescue in the Sulu Sea of 27 people from a disabled wooden-hulled vessel, the ML Rihana, which flew a Philippines flag.

Philippine Marine Corps 2nd Marine Brigade Commanding Officer Col. Romeo T. Racadio credited joint efforts of the Maritime Command Centers in the Philippines and Malaysia for making the rescue possible by the Philippine Navy coastal patrol ship BRP Florencio Inigo.

“The safe recovery was a result of the working Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines,” Racadio said following the rescue, as reported by the state-run Philippine News Agency.

INDOMALPHI-coordinated air and maritime patrols are held four times per year in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas, Arsanta explained. Their objective is “to maintain the sovereignty of their respective countries, enforcing the law based on existing laws and regulations, including international law, laws on coastal states, and international policy and the handling of transnational crime,” he said.

Joint maritime exercises are conducted during regular rendezvous of the three nations’ patrol vessels, he added.

Cooperation extends to intelligence and information sharing which prevents incidents in respective countries, Marcellus Hakeng Jayawibawa, an Indonesian maritime expert and civilian ship captain, told FORUM.

The Sulu and Sulawesi seas are connected to the shipping lanes of the South China Sea that pass through the heavily trafficked Makassar and Lombok straits, he added. The waters also supply fish to the three INDOMALPHI countries, he said.

INDOMALPHI has put constant pressure on terrorists, he said, helping to silence the Abu Sayyaf Group, which conducted maritime attacks and kidnappings from its base in the Southern Philippines in the first two decades of this century, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries.

“INDOMALPHI is a real measure of success by the three countries,” Hakeng concluded. “It shows a spirit of togetherness of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] member states to maintain stability of maritime territory security against piracy, kidnapping and cross-border terrorism. So maritime security needs to be done in order to give safety and security of the shipping and sovereignty of the countries.”

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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