National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales admitted here over the weekend that the government is helpless in securing the vast sea lanes between Mindanao and Indonesia, which are part of the so-called southern backdoor that is a favorite route of smugglers, pirates, and members of the Southeast Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).Some U.S. aid in this might be appropriate. Pirates and terrorists are always quick to exploit security gaps.
People on board small boats take less than three hours to travel from the nearest Indonesian island of Sangihue Talaud to the town of Jose Abad Santos in Davao del Sur.
Gonzales said Indonesian and Filipino boats make more than 26,000 trips each year plying the waters between the islands in East Indonesia and the long coastline of Mindanao.
"We cannot watch and check every boat that travels between Indonesia and Mindanao. Over 26,000 trips are made by these boats and it is impossible to monitor each of them given the government’s meager resources," said Gonzales, who arrived here for a series of meetings with security officials following the recent spate of bombings in Central Mindanao.
"How do you expect government to tightly watch its territorial waters when we lack the necessary equipment and vessels to patrol our borders with Indonesia?" he asked.
The Philippine Navy and Coast Guard do not have enough patrol craft to secure the country’s territorial waters in spite of the existing cooperation between the Philippines and Indonesia to conduct joint patrol operations.
Gonzales said the main operations of the al-Qaeda-linked JI terrorists are still based in Indonesia while Mindanao is being used by the group as a training ground and a base for recruiting new members.