Two Indonesian warships are scheduled to arrive in General Santos City today. They are the Kri Sultan Hasanuddin-366 and the Kri Sultan Iskandar Muda-377. These are Sigma-class corvettes of the TNI Angkatan Laut (TNI-AL) and tasked with patrolling the Celebes Sea as an anti-piracy and anti-terrorism measure. Both warships will remain until the end of the month.
The visit by the Indonesian navy is a clear sign of closer ties between the two countries, who formed a three-way alliance together with Malaysia to curb lawlessness in the high seas. Joint exercises with ships from each navy were held in July and an agreement was reached last year for intelligence sharing.
For the Indonesian navy to dock at General Santos City on the island of Mindanao isn’t unexpected. Since visits like these are often an indicator of goodwill, it’s essential for Indonesia to cultivate warm relations with the Philippines when other regional powers are doing the same. The risks posed by terrorists and the spread of ISIS are high enough for Jakarta to take action, albeit indirectly.
There’s also a sense of the inevitable at work. Indonesia always had problems with its immediate neighbors, from Singapore to Papua New Guinea to Australia. This is less apparent with the Philippines, whose support it tends to cultivate whenever its relations with Kuala Lumpur soured. Today, however, there seems to be a genuine willingness for lasting collaborative endeavors between Manila, Jakarta, and Kulala Lumpur. This was apparent during the Marawi crisis, when diplomatic channels were used to relay vital intelligence on the terrorists who had captured the city.
Indonesia and Malaysia are well aware their radicalized citizens have flocked to Mindanao for decades. These would-be terrorists often travel by ship across unpoliced inter-island sea lanes to reach safe havens. As a result of a creeping civil war in Mindanao, certain provinces in the Philippines’ southernmost island have enclaves run by militant groups. But Indonesia also possesses the largest naval force in Southeast Asia and its primary task isn’t to advertise its strength. Rather, its deployment and capabilities are for securing vital bodies of water and trade routes.
For the Angkatan Laut to deploy in the Celebes Sea is well within its mission, which is focused on the increasing importance of Indonesia’s maritime borders. Among the ASEAN members, Indonesia appears poised to take a commanding role in regional security and, with the exception of Singapore, none spends as much on its armed forces as it does.