Duterte’s crime-fighting model finds an ally in Jakarta, boosting regional security

Edsel Tupaz says the mutual admiration between the leaders of the Philippines and Indonesia bodes well for the regional push against drugs and maritime piracy by the Abu Sayyaf

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 9:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 5:30pm

Bilateral ties between Indonesia and the Philippines have never been warmer. Just days before his recent state visit to Jakarta, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – in an act of goodwill – released all but nine of the 177 Indonesian Hajj pilgrims detained for holding fake Philippine passports.

In Jakarta, Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo issued a joint statement strengthening their commitment to addressing the growing threat of maritime piracy, driven by Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf, in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas, the waters between Indonesia and the Philippines.

There is mutual admiration between the leaders and this bodes well for bilateral relations, including regional security issues.

Indonesia’s narcotics head recently praised Duterte for his aggressive war on illegal drugs and even called on Indonesian police to emulate the brutal campaign.

Indonesia anti-drugs chief calls for tougher Philippine-style war against dealers

Widodo and Duterte are popular among the masses. Both ran on campaigns to fight crime. It comes as no surprise, then, that bilateral relations look set to be a validation of similar character, style and policies.

Duterte’s state visit will improve relations with Indonesia mainly through better regional security. The latest executive agreement allows Indonesian maritime forces to enter Philippine territorial waters when in “hot pursuit” of criminal elements. The Sulu and Sulawesi seas have long been a haven for piracy.

Now, as part of plans to provide a cordon around the seas, Duterte will approach Malaysia to secure a tripartite anti-terrorism protocol.

Meanwhile, Duterte has apparently secured a commitment from Widodo to halt indefinitely the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina on death row in Indonesia after being convicted of illegal drug trafficking. Duterte’s posture has been to portray Veloso as a victim of drug syndicates, much in the way he portrayed the Indonesian Hajj pilgrims as victims of crime syndicates.

Indonesia set to resume executions: police

Duterte’s stand on drugs at home, as irritable as it is to human rights advocates, is less controversial in the eyes of Indonesian authorities, who see it as worth emulating. And if Indonesia does go down Duterte’s route, it would not have a catastrophic effect in Southeast Asia. The region is, after all, hardly a paragon of virtue on the rule of law and human rights.

While Duterte’s crackdown on drugs has led to a disproportionate number of extra-legal killings, it is unlikely that the perceived reversal on human rights will spill over to neighbours. Thus, the gains in regional maritime security may well outweigh the effects of Duterte’s vulgarity.

Edsel Tupaz is a professor of international and comparative law, based in Manila