Ambassador Efren Abu, the government’s special envoy to the EAGA, said naval and coastguard officials of the three countries have started the discussions for the terms of reference for the joint security initiative, which is aimed to secure the area from terrorist movements and illegal activities.
“The discussions are centered on our respective roles in the proposed surveillance system that would be put up in our sea borders,” he told MindaNews at a recent meeting of EAGA tourism officials in Koronadal City.
Abu said the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coastguard, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and other agencies tapped to take part in the security initiative are currently discussing the policies and requirements earlier agreed by the three countries.
He said these requirements include their operational capability, especially the availability of resources such as patrol boats, fuel and communication facilities for the joint operations center.
Abu said the Mindanao Economic and Development Council (Medco), which facilitates the country’s participation in the proposed joint security activity, has been working for the compliance of these requirements.
Medco currently serves as the lead coordinator of the customs-immigration-quarantine (CIQS) activities in the EAGA. The agency initiated the discussions for the proposed joint security patrols in its bilateral talks on CIQS with Malaysia and Indonesia about two years ago.
Medco received a grant of some A$1.2 million from the Australian government late last year to enhance the capacity of agencies based in Mindanao and Palawan that are involved in CIQS activities.
Australia recently committed to expand the program, which mainly focus on the upgrading of the CIQS services in ports serving the EAGA route, to cover the rest of the sub-region.
EAGA leaders agreed during a summit in Kuala Lumpur last December to undertake policy improvements that would strengthen the sub-region’s CIQS mechanisms and enhance security in the area by conducting joint security patrols to address transnational crimes and terrorism.
EAGA, which has an aggregate area of 1.54 million square kilometers and an estimated population of more than 50 million, comprises the entire sultanate of Brunei Darussalam; East and West Kalimantan, North and South Sulawesi, Maluku, Gorontalo and Irian Jaya in Indonesia; Sabah, Sarawak, Labuan in Malaysia and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.
The seas shared by the four EAGA countries had been identified as exit and entry routes of alleged terrorists responsible for the string bombings in key cities in the area over the last three years. The attacks were blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah, an alleged Indonesian terrorist group supposedly linked with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida network. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)