The decision this October by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to conduct joint and coordinated air patrols on their side of Southeast Asia is strategically sound. It will prove conducive to regional security from terrorism. It also provides assurance that our countries are prepared for any attacks that may ensue once the Marawi conflict is over.
It makes sense for our Malay countries to address together the threat of IS-inspired terrorism in our part of Southeast Asia. We are bound together by our geographical and ethnic heritage. It is wise to think beyond Marawi and look toward being prepared for any further assaults in the future, wherever these may take place in our countries.
This is the conclusion we draw from the significant meeting in Subang, Malaysia on October 12, wherein our three countries agreed to create a trilateral air patrol mechanism as part of a broad program to combat terrorism in the entire Asean region. This confirms that our governments have correctly recognized a common stake in the successful neutralization of terrorist groups in our part of the world.
This decision is a commendable continuation of what our three countries conducted last June – joint operations to fight terrorism and international crimes in the Sulu Sea. The joint action was a direct offshoot of the attack on Marawi City, perpetrated by the IS-inspired Maute group.
The Marawi crisis has now stretched for nearly five months. It is not forgotten that Islamist fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia joined homegrown rebels in the siege of our premier Muslim city in Southern Philippines.
The Subang initiative reflects a shared desire to subdue more terror attacks in the Malay side of Southeast Asia. By being united, we will be more successful in the struggle against terrorism.
The Philippine spokesman described the program well when he said: “The coordinated joint air patrols were launched to better counter the movement of terrorist groups and to strengthen the security of our three countries and the region as a whole.
“By sharing information and exchanging best practices, we hope to improve the inter-operability of our forces and help better secure areas of common maritime interest.”
The extent of the challenge before us can be measured by what Marawi has meant so far. The Philippine military reported that as of October 12, a total of 813 terrorist fighters have been killed by government troops, while 160 soldiers and police have died in the fighting. On the civilian side, 47 civilians have been killed by the terrorists, while 1,750 civilians have been rescued by government troops.
Without a doubt, the Marawi battle has already taken too long and cost too much in lives and resources. But it is reassuring to think that the IS terrorists are nowhere close to winning but are close to being completely subdued.
The statistics may be grim and saddening, but they should spur firmer determination to press onward with the fight against this common enemy.