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Duterte eyes opening borders in bid to battle terrorists

Philippine president looks to allow Malaysian, Indonesian authorities to chase suspects across porous maritime border

Duterte eyes opening borders in bid to battle terrorists

Troops patrol Barangay Bubong Madaya in Marawi City on the 100th day of the crisis, that has killed more than 700 people. (Photo by Divina Suson)

Inday Espina-Varona and Divina Suson, Manila

September 5, 2017

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sept. 3 said he would open the country's porous maritime borders to Malaysian and Indonesian authorities in a bid to stop Islamic State inroads in Southeast Asia.

A few days after the arrest of two Filipino terror suspects in Malaysia was announced, Duterte said he would discuss greater cooperation between the navies and coastguards of the three countries.

"We have agreed that we will talk, the three of us. We are just waiting for the right time," Duterte told reporters.

"I will open my borders to the Malaysian authorities and Indonesian authorities … they'll be given access," said the Philippine president.

He said that terror groups in Southeast Asia are known for having powerful, wooden-hulled boats that weave across the rugged coastlines of the Sulu-Sulawesi seas, key maritime routes for international trade and international terror groups.

"So, if we're chasing after Filipinos, we can always tell the Indonesians, go, get them," Duterte said of his vision. "The same for Indonesians here in the Philippines."


Pan-regional terror

The Abu Sayyaf, a small Philippine group that has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State(IS), has enjoyed a lucrative kidnapping enterprise in this area, taking hostages across national borders.

The Jemaah Islamiya, the first Southeast Asian group to espouse a regional Islamic caliphate, and Malaysian extremist groups have sent fighters for years to train with Philippine rebel groups in Mindanao.

Military public affairs chief, Col. Edgard Arevalo, said one of the Filipinos nabbed in Malaysia was identified as Hajar Abdul Mubin, alias Mheraiz, a suspected right-hand man of Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama.

The military is still verifying the group affiliation of the second suspect, Abraham Bin Ebong.

Malaysian police arrested the two Filipinos and six of their own nationals in Kuala Lumpur.

"The group was arrested for alleged links to terrorist activities [in Malaysia]," said Arevalo without elaborating.


Last push in Marawi

Duterte said IS members, scrambling to escape from Syria, see Southeast Asian nations as key targets.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have all acknowledged that their nationals have fought in Marawi, an important Islamic center in Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

The military on Aug. 30 re-opened the strategic Mapandi Bridge there, a month after taking it back from IS-inspired rebels.

"We are in the last and the final push," marine commander, Brigadier General Melquiades Ordiales, told reporters.

He said the military is pushing on to the Bato Ali Mosque, where rebels fell back to after abandoning the Grand Mosque two weeks ago.

Ordiales said military intelligence believes the remaining rebels are still holding some 40 hostages, including Marawi prelature vicar-general, Father Chito Soganub. 

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