This week, Indonesia and the Philippines are conducting the latest iteration of a decades-long annual joint patrol in the Celebes (Sulawesi) Sea. The holding of the patrols illustrates the continuing efforts by both Manila and Jakarta to secure their border areas in the face of rising transnational threats and a high level of activity in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas.
Though some media outlets mentioned the holding of the Philippines-Indonesia coordinated border patrols, known as CORPAT PHILINDO, within the engagement in the context of newer trilateral patrols between Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, they have actually been going on since 1986 as part of Manila and Jakarta’s effort to implement their border agreement.
The two navies have been carrying out drills that help them address common challenges in surrounding waters – including smuggling, terrorism, human trafficking, marine protection, and disaster response – as well as test existing doctrines and procedures and enhance interoperability between them (See: “Confronting Threats in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas: Opportunities and Challenges”).
Last year’s iteration of CORPAT PHILINDO began in Manado City in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and ended in Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Davao City, the Philippines. The Philippines used the Miguel Malvar-class corvette BRP Pangasinan, while Indonesia had the KRI Sura. The engagement also paved the way for the repatriation of Filipino fishermen who had been apprehended in Indonesia’s high seas, a thorny issue that both sides have continued to manage.
This year’s iteration of the patrols will instead formally start on July 6 at the Sasa Wharf in Davao City in the southern Philippines and will end on July 12 in Manado, Indonesia, Ezra Balagtey, a military spokesman with the Eastern Mindanao Command, said in a statement over the weekend. Indonesian military participants arrived on July 4 for the military ceremony organized by the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, which took place at Philippine Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City.
“[This] is intended to strengthen the security of the Davao Gulf and the common boundary of the two countries in the southern part of the Philippine archipelago particularly along the Celebes Sea and enhance the interoperability of the two countries in maritime patrol,” the statement said.
This year’s drills are occurring amid a high level of activity in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. As was referenced earlier, Indonesia and the Philippines, along with Malaysia, just officially launched trilateral patrols in the Sulu Sea a few weeks ago (See: “What’s Next for the New Sulu Sea Trilateral Patrols?”). And a few days ago, the United States and the Philippines carried out a coordinated patrol in the Sulu Sea following an exercise (See: “What’s With the New US-Philippines Sulu-Sea Patrols Under Duterte?”).
Few details were disclosed about this year’s patrols, though they have traditionally consisted of a mix of drills on areas ranging from communications to the replenishment of logistics at sea, medical missions, and other confidence-building measures. Balagtey did say that the patrols would feature a medical mission conducted by military medical personnel aboard the patrolling vessels in a stopover on July 7 at Balut Island, Sarangani, Davao Occidental with the participation of the local government.