Last week, Brunei’s military joint force commander paid a visit to the Philippines. Though the scheduled trip was just one manifestation of the security relationship between the two Southeast Asian states, it nonetheless highlighted some of the ongoing activity within this dimension of ties.
As I have noted before in these pages, Brunei and the Philippines have a defense relationship as part of their broader bilateral ties. Apart from usual components such as visits, exchanges, and exercises, Brunei also has a few uniformed personnel that have been deployed as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) headquartered in Cotabato city in Mindanao to help monitor the peace process ongoing in the southern Philippines since 2004.
Last week, the relationship was in the spotlight again with the visit of the joint force commander of the Brunei military to the Philippines. Joint Force Commander Royal Brunei Armed Forces (JFC RBAF) Mohd Sharif Bin Dato Paduka Haji Ibrahim made a working visit to Manila and Cotabato city from May 26 to 28.
The trip consisted of several interactions. The commander and his delegation met with Philippine officials, including Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Salvador Mison Jr. at the General Headquarters at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon city, and Juvymax R UY, the assistant commander of the 6th Infantry Division at the 6th Infantry Division Headquarters in Cotabato city. Per Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF), these meetings provided both sides with the opportunity to assess the state of ties between their two militaries.
The JFC RBAF and his delegation also interacted with the IMT as well during the visit. They met with First Admiral Abd Halim bin Hj Shaari, deputy head of the mission, at IMT Headquarters, where issues of interest were discussed. And the delegation also had an opportunity to visit IMT Team Site 1, where they were briefed on the latest situation in Mindanao and the situational progress of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) on decommissioning weapons from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Apart from these meetings, the commander and his delegation also participated in other activities as well that were tied to the holy month of Ramadan, emphasizing the religious linkage between Brunei and the southern Philippines and how that extended to people-to-people ties as well within defense ties. As a case in point, the JFC RBAF distributed a personal donation from Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to the people of Mindanao, which included Safawi dates.
To be sure, the commander’s visit to the Philippines was just one of several defense interactions between the two Southeast Asian states. Nonetheless, the trip reinforced some of the ongoing activity in a security relationship that is often not in the spotlight despite the significance both sides continue to attribute to it.