Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte said he and the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia are poised to hold a meeting in the coming weeks to discuss proactive steps to prevent the spread of extremism in this part of Southeast Asia.
“All three of us have agreed to talk, we are just waiting for the proper time,” Duterte said as he referred to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
The president was quoted by reports as saying that he, Razak and Widodo agreed that there is a clear danger from extremism---particularly from Daesh and their local agents--- in their respective countries and that collective action is necessary to confront this threat.
He said that among the steps discussed in the possibility of opening their borders and creation of a “task force” to run after extremists.
“I will open my borders to the Malaysian authorities and Indonesian authorities, they’ll be given access,” reports quoted Duterte as saying during an event in Davao City on Saturday evening.
Early this year, the three neighbouring countries forged an agreement to hold joint drills versus piracy and similar threats. The pact was signed following attacks carried out by the Southern Philippines based Abu Sayyaf on commercial shipping plying the Sulu Sea area.
The attacks also involved kidnap for ransom, a criminal activity that the Abu Sayyaf has become notorious for.
Earlier joint activities by the three countries against criminals had largely been reactive, forming a task force means that it could be taking proactive steps such as conducting joint operations against extremists such as the Abu Sayyaf and its allied organisations.
Duterte made the statement also following reports from Malaysia saying that eight suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf were captured by authorities in Kuala Lumpur last August 30.
Malaysia’s The Star Online, in an exclusive report said the eight Abu Sayyaf militants consisted of Filipinos as well as Malaysians.
The reports, quoting sources from the Philippines intelligence community said the arrested suspects are members of the so-called “Lucky 9” gang that are involved in kidnap for ransom in Jolo, Sulu’s capital.
In a related development, Presidential Palace Spokesman Ernesto Abella said they have yet to confirm reports that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon had left the combat zone in Marawi City and had fled to Basilan.
Hapilon last May 23 had led, together with leaders of the Lanao Del Sur-based Maute, an operation to occupy Marawi City in an attempt to establish a so-called “caliphate” in the predominantly Muslim city.
“We treat numerous reports saying that Isnilon Hapilon has left Marawi and has been seen openly in Basilan as raw information requiring further validation by the military and various security agencies of government,” Abella said on Sunday in a statement.
“Granting Isnilon Hapilon’s whereabouts in Basilan is true, it would mean that he chose to abandon his men as the battle of Marawi nears its final stretch,” he adds.
The fighting in Marawi City had been ongoing for more than 100 days.