Duterte asks Beijing for sea patrols targeting militants

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday that he has asked China to send sea patrols to help stop militants from abducting sailors and attacking vessels off the southern Philippines.

Mr Duterte said he would like Beijing to dispatch a fleet as it did in 2009 when it sent a naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden to protect Chinese ships from Somali pirates.

"I also asked China if they can patrol the international waters without necessarily intruding into the territorial waters of countries," Mr Duterte said in a speech to newly promoted Filipino generals.

"Grey ships are not really needed," he said, an apparent reference to warships. "I said even coast guard cutters would do, just to patrol, like what they did in Somalia."

Manila has said that militant groups are trying to establish an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-backed caliphate in South-east Asia that would include the Philippines' southern island of Mindanao.

Mr Duterte pointedly made his appeal for help to China rather than the United States, which has traditionally been the country's main defence ally.

Since his election last year, Mr Duterte has responded to US criticism of his deadly war on crime by pivoting away from the US and moving closer to China, despite ongoing territorial disputes between the two.

Abu Sayyaf, one of the groups seeking to set up a caliphate, began kidnapping sailors in waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year, taking several dozen hostages and attacking cargo ships.

Indonesia has warned that the region could become the "next Somalia" and the three countries later pledged coordinated patrols.

The International Maritime Bureau said last month that the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high last year, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has handed its anti-narcotics agency the lead role in running a controversial war on drugs after President Duterte lambasted the national police for rampant corruption and took them off the job.

More than 7,600 people, mostly users and small-time dealers, have been killed since he took office, vowing to crack down on drugs.

Local radio stations, which routinely cover drug killings, said there were no reports of any deaths in what appeared to be a rare bloodless night on Monday. Police could not confirm whether or not there were any casualties.

Official data yesterday showed four additional deaths in police operations, although it was not immediately clear when the operations took place.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Duterte asks Beijing for sea patrols targeting militants'. Print Edition | Subscribe