MANILA • The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are to explore the possibility of conducting joint air patrols, their defence ministers agreed in a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asean-US Dialogue in Hawaii.
The decision came weeks after the three countries agreed to "immediately begin" joint sea patrols to fight maritime crime and terrorism in the piracy-prone Sulu Sea.
"The three ministers agreed to explore joint air patrols, even while their respective armed forces are finalising the parameters for maritime patrols in the pre-decided transit corridor in what the three countries consider as maritime areas of common concern," the Philippine Department of National Defence said in a statement yesterday.
Last month, the three countries signed a document on the standard operating procedures for trilateral maritime cooperation to secure the regional waters.
The move to strengthen air surveillance came on the heels of a spike in the number of kidnappings led by the Abu Sayyaf militants this year.
Military sources said the Abu Sayyaf are still holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in their jungle stronghold on Jolo Island in the southern Philippines.
The militants beheaded two Canadian hostages this year, after failing to collect a ransom.
The Philippine defence ministry said militants returning from conflict zones in the Middle East could eventually create security challenges for the three countries, "something which the ministers recognised and, hence, their decision to further get their act together".
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK