Indonesia-Philippines sea border pact ratified

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Parliament on Thursday (April 27) ratified a landmark sea border agreement with the Philippines, which sets the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundaries between the two countries in the Mindanao and Celebes seas.

"The conclusion of the agreement with the Philippines and the subsequent ratification by Indonesian Parliament constitutes the seriousness of the Indonesian government in resolving the border issue with all of Indonesia's neighbours," said Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in a statement.

The new boundary, said to be about 1,161km long, is the first maritime border agreement to be finalised between Jakarta and Manila.

It was first inked in 2014 after more than two decades of negotiations between the two sides.

The ratification by Parliament comes just days before President Joko Widodo heads to Manila for the 30th Asean Summit and a meeting with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte, to launch a new trade route aimed at improving connectivity in the region.

Lawmakers at the plenary session on Thursday applauded the move, adding that the pact will also support security operations to safeguard the area against piracy and terrorism, as well as offer economic opportunities.

"This benefits both countries as there is now confidence over where the borders are, and therefore each country can explore and exploit the natural resources such as fish, crude oil, gas and other minerals," said Mr T.B. Hasanuddin, who is deputy chair of the Parliamentary Defence Committee.

When the agreement was first signed in 2014 during the term of then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, it was hailed as a model for the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the region.

It also came amid the escalation of tensions fuelled by Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the strategic waterway, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

Indonesia is not a party to the disputes but became concerned after Beijing declared in March last year that the waters around the Natunas, which lie within Indonesia's EEZ, are part of its "traditional fishing grounds".

Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry officials had said that a clear boundary will allow it to take tougher enforcement action against illegal fishing in its waters.

"A clear boundary will make it easier for us to take strict action when we find Filipino fishermen operating in our waters," Mr Reza Shah Pahlevi, the ministry's director of fisheries management, told The Jakarta Post last week. "It will also provide legal certainty for our fishermen, especially in determining the areas where they can operate."

Ms Retno added on Thursday that Indonesia will continue its efforts in negotiating the three-point boundary between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.