Abu Sayyaf Piracy: An ASEAN Political Security Challenge

by Bayu Mitra A. Kusuma*

Various reports about piracy and kidnapping activities in the border waters area between Indonesia and the Philippines seemed endless. Ironically one of the kidnapping happened after the meeting of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines armed forces commanders which resulting a joint patrol MoU. This condition seemed to illustrate that border waters as de facto has been controlled by armed militias, in this case is the Abu Sayyaf group based in Basilan the Philippines. Abu Sayyaf is a militia that highly trained, has modern weapons, and pledged to Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi the supreme leader of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The kidnapping they do is aim for ransom or compensation from the hostage’s state government in large numbers. It’s strongly suspected to be used as a financing source for terrorism activities which according to their distorted perspective is ‘jihad’.

Except twice liberation of Indonesian citizens in 2016, generally hostages will be freed after redeemed with a large compensation. An example is an Italian hostage who was released after redeemed with millions of pesos. In other cases the tragic fate experienced by Canadian hostages were executed after a compensation demanded still not paid until the deadline. If we talk about risk management, all existing mechanisms of hostage liberation definitely have a risk respectively. The military option is actually very dangerous considering that Abu Sayyaf militia is very fierce, understands the terrain, knew all the mice streets for guerrillas, and supported by most of surrounding community. So the military operations is potentially resulting an asymmetric warfare which is very favorable for militia. Although it is basically the Indonesian Armed Force (TNI) ability is reliable and has been prepared to facing these conditions.

Another constraint is the Philippine constitution which prohibits foreign military operations in their sovereign territory, although in the end there is a compromise which allowed the Indonesian military to chase in their territorial waters. Indonesia as a good neighbor and obey the law of course respect to their constitution. But actually if the condition is urgent, there is a legal framework that could be used by the government of Indonesia. In international law, there is a term known as the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. It means a foreign country’s military has been given a mandate by the United Nations could have gone into the sovereign territory of a country to save lives or prevent the mass murder, as ever undertaken by the United States in Kosovo in the 1990s. In efforts to prevent reoccurrence of piracy and kidnapping, joint patrol as mentioned above rightly done considering one of ASEAN community pillars which will be applied soon is the political security community. So that in the future joint patrols should also involve all Southeast Asian countries which are adjacent to the hotspot.

But we certainly cannot simply rely on joint patrol only. It should be considered several strategies for long-term prevention to break the kidnappings chain in the border waters. Some prevention models that can be done besides increasing the intensity of joint patrols in areas prone to piracy and kidnapping, among others are: intensely alert the ship or company regarding the condition of the hot zone, more active in international forums to limit the movement of illegal arms transactions, strengthening cooperation with countries in the region to discover and block suspicious accounts or could potentially be used to accommodate the proceeds of piracy and terrorism, and pro-active in the intelligent gathering and sharing with countries in the region to sharpen intelligence information. Complemented with a de-radicalization program continues to expand, both conducted independently or in cooperation with other ASEAN countries to prevent the extremists militia regeneration.

*Researcher at Institute of Southeast Asian Islam (ISAIs) and Lecturer at Faculty of Da’wah and Communications, Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.

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