MANILA – Indonesia is seeking a dialogue with the Philippines as the two Southeast Asian neighbors grapple with the threat brought by Islamic State-inspired militants, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Monday.
Cayetano said Indonesia wants to step up its cooperation against terrorism with the Philippines and Malaysia, in the wake of the attack of Islamist extremists in the Mindanao city of Marawi.
"The Indonesian foreign minister is proposing a meeting, a small conference wherein we can talk about the situation and what we can do together with Malaysia,” Cayetano told reporters in an ambush interview after gracing the Independence Day rites in Manila.
The three Southeast Asian neighbors have been working on combating piracy in the Sulu and Celebes seas whose perpetrators are based in the southernmost Philippine provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.
For years, the region has been festered by numerous kidnapping incidents on the high seas, considered the main source of income of some factions of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.
But the daring incursion of Islamic State-inspired militants from Maute Group and the Isnilon Hapilon faction of Abu Sayyaf right into the heart of Mindanao has gotten some regional security experts worried that the Middle East-based terror group has made significant progress in its supposed attempt to establish a foothold in Asia.
With the terror threat now more apparent in mainland Mindanao, there is now a higher sense of urgency among regional authorities to stem the rise of terror groups before the problem spreads to other parts of Southeast Asia.
Cayetano said the President was correct in saying that Islamic State would soon become a problem for Southeast Asia, as the group continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria.
"Now it can be said, and it is being said, that in the last 10 months, totoo ang sinasabi ng pangulo sa ASEAN, na ang ASEAN countries will be target of terrorism,” he said.
"Unfortunately nauna tayo and we want to cooperate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer at the hands of extremists.”
President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law after the local terrorists, allegedly aided by foreign cohorts from as far as the Middle East, clashed with government troops in Marawi last May 23.
The clashes erupted as government troops were pursuing Hapilon, considered Islamic State’s point man in Southeast Asia.