Operating with impunity

THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez - The Freeman

Several days after the Indonesian government announced that seven of its seafarers have been abducted in the Sulu Sea by armed men believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf Group, the AFP finally confirmed the abduction. The Indonesians were delivering coal to the country when the criminals struck. Not all were taken, but they did take the captain of the ship. They are now asking for two hundred thirty million pesos for the release of the seven Indonesians. Military operations are ongoing to find and deal with these criminals.

Because of this, the Indonesian government has halted all coal deliveries until the government can assure the safety of all vessels sailing the Sulu Sea. Indonesia supplies around twenty-five percent of the country's coal needs, specifically for power plants in Mindanao. According to the Department of Energy, the country still has about a month's supply of coal, allaying any fears of a shortage. Coal can also be purchased from Australia and Russia, but I'm sure it will cost more. And is this really the issue?

Obviously, the Indonesian government is incensed with this third incidence of kidnappings of its seafarers by the Abu Sayyaf. Just recently, an agreement by the Malaysian, Indonesian, and Philippine government was reached to jointly patrol and secure the oceans. But this latest abduction by the ASG clearly is both a challenge and an insult to all three countries, maybe more for the Philippines as these are technically our waters - proof that the ASG can operate with impunity in the Sulu Sea.

If an agreement has already been made, then implement it as soon as possible. These ASG cretins cannot be allowed to operate as they wish. The sea may be a big place, but if there are three countries monitoring the area, then they should not even be able to leave the shores. Territorial and sovereignty issues must be modified to allow the navies of Malaysia and Indonesia to patrol our waters, in the interest of deterring the Abu Sayyaf, or even better, to blow them out of the water. A concerted effort is necessary to crush the ASG, once and for all.

Some are saying that if we cannot protect our own seas from local criminals, how can we protect our legitimate interests in the West Philippine Sea? This is not to say that we should go toe-to-toe with China. But with the UN arbitration decision coming out, seen to be favorable to the country, we have to be able to enforce it. We have to be able to assert ourselves behind the power of a legitimate arbitrary decision. Otherwise, what good was the whole process if it cannot be enforced?

Freedom of navigation and over flights in the region is what most countries want. What should also be mentioned is the security of vessels sailing the waters. The Sulu Sea cannot be the next Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates hijacked ships at will, being paid huge ransoms for the return of the vessels and their crew.


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