The Philippines and Malaysia are holding naval drills this week as both countries seek to deepen their cooperation in maritime security and transnational crime.
The four-day naval drills, codenamed MTA MALPHI LAUT 18/5, are the 18th iteration of an annual bilateral training exercise between the two Southeast Asian states since a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation was concluded in 1994.
According to Rear Admiral Primitivo Gopo, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) which is hosting the five-day Maritime Training Activity (MTA), the exercises will be held ashore and afloat in Zamboanga City and in the Moro Gulf and focus on maritime security and transnational crime. They will run up to August 28.
The exercises, Gopo added, would consist of three phases and involve 157 sailors from the Philippine Navy (PN) and 136 sailors from the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN). The first phase, the harbor phase, will take place from August 24 to 25 and would involve various activities including courtesy calls, subject matter expert exchange lectures, special operations activities and naval aviation training. The second phase, at sea trials, will occur from August 26 to 27 and involve combined ship maneuvers to address various contingencies at sea. The third and last phase from August 27 to 28 will involve a sports cup activity and other recreational activities before the departure of RMN ships.
The primary objective of the exercise, Gopo said, is to enhance interoperability between the two navies and to develop better understanding and cooperation.
Smugglers, human traffickers, and terrorists from the southern Philippines have long posed a security threat to Malaysia. Two Malaysian hostages were recently kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants from a seafood restaurant in Sandakan and are still being held captive, and Kuala Lumpur and Manila are now working to secure their release. Malaysia also played a role in facilitating negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which both inked a peace agreement over a year ago (See: “Malaysian Peacekeepers Could Face Toughest Challenge Yet”). The exercise also comes amidst the unresolved Sabah issue between the two sides, and Malaysia saw a 2013 invasion by Filipino militants in the Lahad Datu incident.
Earlier this year, Malaysian officials also announced that the country was preparing a series of offshore military bases in the Sulu Sea to address threats from the southern Philippines, including an influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced southern Filipinos if talks were to break down with the MILF.