INDONESIA, the world’s largest Muslim country, has offered to help the Philippines fight violent extremism through Islamic education to avoid a repeat of the Marawi siege that displaced over 400,000 civilians last year.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi pledged Jakarta’s assistance to Manila in the fight against Islamic extremism during an official visit this week in Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Marsudi led the launching of the Islamic education cooperation program with the Philippines at Madrasa Al Munawwara, the first accredited Islamic school in the Philippines since 1996.
She said in a statement that Jakarta will grant 100 scholarships each year to students of Islamic schools in Mindanao to study in Indonesia as part of her country’s effort to fight Islamic extremism.
The scholarship includes international transport, tuition fee and living costs.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano welcomed Indonesia’s offer to share its best practices in Islamic education as part of efforts to address and prevent extremism, not just in the country but also across Southeast Asia.
“Indonesia is one of the models for the kind of Islamic education that the Philippines and Asean can look into to counter the rise of extremism,” Cayetano said.
“Our Indonesian friends do not want to see another Marawi happening and are offering to help us counter radicalisation through education,” he added.
Muslim-Filipino extremists, backed by foreign fighters from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia, attacked Marawi City on May 23 to establish an Islamic state. The militants stood their ground against government forces in a five-month skirmish that left the city in shambles.
The Marawi siege triggered Duterte to place all of Mindanao under martial law, which was extended until Dec 31 this year by Congress upon the request of the president who said threats from the extremists remain despite the end of the war in Marawi.
Cayetano said the Philippine government is looking forward to working not only with Indonesia but also with other like-minded Islamic countries in defeating the threat. He noted that Jakarta’s offer was among the initiatives taken up during the tripartite meetings against extremism held last year in Manila among the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
During her visit to Davao, Marsudi also paid a courtesy call on Duterte, during which the leaders agreed to elevate cooperation on trade, maritime security, education, and in eradicating terrorism.
Duterte told her he wanted to intensify maritime security in cooperation with Indonesia as foreign and local terrorists continue to enter and exit the country despite the military efforts to go after these elements.
The president was referring to the sea backdoor between Indonesia’s Sulawesi provinces and Sarangani town in Davao Occidental.
The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) earlier said some of the 20 Indonesian militants who fought alongside the Maute Group in Marawi may have slipped through the Sulawesi Sea (called Celebes Sea in the Philippines) in going to Mindanao.
“It is likely that a few have found their way to Marawi,” IPAC said in a 29-page report issued last year.
In December 2015, IPAC cited that a boat hired by an Indonesian militant operative from General Santos City in Mindanao smuggled firearms to North Sulawesi, passing through the Celebes Sea.
General Santos City is about eight hours by sea from Sarangani town in Davao Occidental, the country’s border with Indonesia’s Sulawesi provinces.
“In three to four hours by pump boat, we can be at the nearest Indonesian territory,” Cesar Hadir, an Indonesian descendant married to a Filipina on Sarangani town, told Asian Correspondent.
Hadir said the Indonesians who have settled on the island-municipality of Sarangani are simple farmers and fishermen.
But he admitted it is not remote for Islamic militants from Indonesia to sneak in to Mindanao incognito through the Celebes Sea, or vice versa, because of their proximity.