A leader of the House of Representatives has called on his colleagues to support the planned joint military training against homegrown terrorism by the Philippines with Malaysia and Indonesia, in the face of reports of terror activities in Mindanao.
Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, vice chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, said the three-nation military training program is aimed at addressing the activities of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
The exercises that will put in motion a planned common defense front to protect the Sulu-Sulawesi seas from pirates, mostly Abu Sayyaf bandits involved in kidnaping-for-ransom.
Villafuerte said the training program is crucial to the Duterte administration’s counter-terrorism bid and will go a long way in addressing the peace and order problems that have hampered the growth and development of Mindanao despite its vast potentials.
Another outlaw group, the Maute, reportedly drawing inspiration from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has started to carve out its own name as a terrorist group in the country. Armed Forces operations are underway against the Maute which was able to occupy Butig town in Lanao del Sur.
Villafuerte said the planned joint military training should get solid support from the House as a new breed of terrorist organization has started to sow fear and panic in certain parts of Mindanao.
“On top of being a defense initiative, the joint military training agreed upon by the Philippines with Indonesia and Malaysia will also be a big help in facilitating the movement of international navigation, trade, and commerce in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, which has received relatively little attention compared to other maritime interests in the region,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte said some 18 million people move acoss borders around the the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas along with the the passage of more than 100,000 ships carrying 55 million metric tons of cargo each year, based on estimates made by the Indonesian foreign ministry.
“This is a vital sealane that needs to be protected from pirates and terrorists. We hope this planned defense cooperation among the three countries will continue and intensify so that the joint patrols and training will extend to countering other equally grave crimes such as drug trafficking and human smuggling,” Villafuerte said.