While everyone may have been focused on the American Presidential Election, many of us may not have heard that another country’s leader is currently in Malaysia: The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte, who was only appointed President in June, is currently visiting Malaysia for the first time in his presidential capacity. And you can see how his people welcomed him here.
Still some of you might remember, this actually isn’t the first time we’re talking about him. The first time we actually explored how after coming to power, he said he would do his best to take Sabah back from Malaysia! And a few months on, has he finally come to stake his claim on Sabah?
Well that doesn’t seem to be the case. Before he left for Malaysia, he was asked in the Philippines whether he would bring up the topic of Sabah, and he said this.
“Not at this time because my visit is just one day to focus on what is happening in the Malacca Strait.” – Filipino President, Rodrigo Duterte, as quoted by philstar.com
And before you go like “Uh oh, does he want Melaka now too?”, he’s actually not interested in any piece of land but…sea.
The President of the Philippines is actually here to work with us
So Duterte is actually keen on discussing something else that he feels very strongly about: The security of the seas around us.
“We (Duterte and Najib) have a lot to talk about piracy, kidnapping and criminality in the Malacca Strait.” – Rodrigo Duterte, as quoted by South China Morning Post
And we’re not talking about the DVD seller, which-give-pirates-a-bad-name, kind. We’re talking about the Captain Hook, sail-the-seas, kind.
But some of you may be wondering, why Selat Melaka? Aren’t the pirates all the way up in Sabah? Well, we mentioned in a previous article that Malaysia actually has more pirates than Somalia, and most of these pirate activities actually happen in the Selat Melaka!
And if you’re wondering how da heck so many pirates can fit into that small area of Selat Melaka, that’s because Selat Melaka is such a busy area (with 120,000 ships passing through it every year) that pirate ships just blend in! Of course there are a whole lot of other things about Selat Melaka pirates, but as we said we talked about them in a previous article which you can read here.
But still, if it’s in our waters, why is Duterte so concerned until he would make sea security his main agenda coming here?
Duterte really, really, hates pirates
If you’ve heard of Duterte, you’ve probably heard about how he hates crime so much, he tries his best to kill it….along with the people who commit them. Before he became president, he was actually the mayor of a place called Davao City. And over there, he was known as “The Punisher” simply because during his time as mayor, Davao City became popular for having “Death Squads” which went around KILLING criminals.
He claims to have never joined these squads (but didn’t really go against them either), but he himself would once a while patrol the streets to make sure the police did their jobs.
But it seems that after he became president, he thought to himself that he was capable of doing the same and not only said that he would kill 100,000 criminals within his first 6 months, but also said that he would “feed pirates to the sharks”! Which is hard to tell if he’s actually joking or not because apparently 7 out of the 10 deadliest sharks in the world can be located near the Philippines.
But he’s not only referring to those in the Selat Melaka, he’s also said that he wants to discuss the pirate problem in Sabah, going as far as to call the situation embarassing.
Malaysia’s not the only one he’s working with on this. Before coming to Malaysia, Duterte actually paid a visit to Indonesia in September. While he was there, he actually brought up the same thing with the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo. And the result was an agreement to work on maritime security together.
“We’ve agreed to take steps to secure the Sulu Sea and other maritime areas of common interest.” – Rodrigo Duterte on his meeting with Joko Widodo, as quoted by newscentral.ph
This comes off the back of the news in June that 7 Indonesian sailors were kidnapped in Philippine waters by pirates as well.
And he seems really intent on making it work between the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia because he’s even been willing to allow something pretty extraordinary.
Duterte has allowed Malaysia and Indonesia to enter Filipino waters to catch pirates
So when Duterte came over to Malaysia, it wasn’t just to sing and dance with our PM (although he did actually do that).
Duterte actually came here to tell our PM the same thing he told the President of Indonesia. Something along the lines of: If you’re chasing the pirates, and they enter Filipino waters, please continue to chase them. And it seems that Duterte’s decision to allow Malaysia and Indonesia forces into their area when pursuing pirates, actually solves a problem that the countries once had.
“If you are in hot pursuit of the bad guys and we reach maritime boundaries, the bad guys will get away if you stop. So, President Duterte said we should continue the chase and he has given us the licence to do so. We are to inform the Philippine navy and they will assist us if they are nearby.” – PM Najib, as quoted by The Star
And that’s actually something so new that both the Malaysian and Filipino defence ministers are going to meet up later this month to discuss how it’s gonna work!
But there is one thing that we may need to consider. When Duterte told Indonesia they could pursue pirates into Filipino waters, he actually said this.
“They can go ahead and blast them off. That’s my word actually with Widodo. I said, ‘blow them up.'” – Rodrigo Duterte, as quoted by philstar.com
Which raises up this one concern:
As far as pirates are concerned, can we just shoot to…kill?
Back in 2012, ship captains in the UK also asked the UK parliament whether they could just shoot Somali pirates which approached their ships.
“The question anyone would ask is that if a private armed guard on board a UK flagged vessel sees an armed skiff approaching at high speed, can the guard open fire?
The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not.” – Richard Ottaway, a British guy in some British foreign affairs committee, as quoted by Mirror
And it seems that even until now, the size of the ocean has made this such a complex issue that no one actually has a proper answer to it. It seems that one of the reasons for this is that the laws of the sea are not sufficient enough to completely deal piracy. For the moment, it’s just been easier for security forces to just confiscate their weapons, and get this….let them go!
But there are those who have brought up that a possible solution is to set up a tribunal (court of justice) to handle these matters so that no one country would need to shoulder the burden of dealing with this alone.
But until then, it’s unclear if the solution of just shooting them to kill would be a good idea, especially when Duterte himself is already under the spotlight for infringing on human rights for how suspected criminals have been dealt with in the Philippines. And that is something that Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia have to work out first before diving (geddit? because sea) into the fight.
Regardless, piracy is an issue that Southeast Asia needs to deal with
We found a number of articles that discuss how the security of the waters surrounding Southeast Asia have been in need of improvement for a while now. Last year Southeast Asian seas even had a record for the number of piracy incidents. On the other hand, we also have the Sabah kidnappings. While some were eventually released, others were still brutally murdered. Heck just a few days before this, there were reports of a German who was kidnapped, while the body of his wife was found on their yacht.
In fact, one article going all the way back to 2007 said that Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all needed greater cooperation to improve maritime security back then itself.
Which means that in many ways, the recent agreements between Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia are actually a step in the right direction. We do still have the issue of figuring out how exactly we will deal with the pirates, but at the very least, after so many years, the 3 countries seem to have finally decided to work towards a solution which hopefully would make the waters around us safer.