The statement, made by the three foreign ministers of the countries, was reaffirmed by their respective defence ministers at their meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting on 26 May 2016 in Laos. The three agreed to order their respective defence forces to accelerate trilateral cooperation. It should be noted that the joint statement was made by the foreign ministers and was attested by their heads of the armed forces, but without their defence ministers. The three defence ministers held their third trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN defence dialogue in Hawaii in September 2016, this time with the new Philippine Defence Minister, Delfin Lorenzana. The framework should establish standard procedures for maritime patrols, assistance to nationals in distress and exchange of information. However, at that time, only the information sharing protocol was ready. The other protocols were discussed at the work level. Nevertheless, the three ministers agreed to begin the investigation into joint air patrols4. It is also worth clarifying the exact role of police officers and national security authorities in defining military action plans.
One of the obstacles to reducing the growing challenge of violent extremism is that each of the three countries has different agencies in this area: for the Philippines, it is the national police, since terrorism is still considered a problem of continuing prison sentences, while Marawi is an exception; for Indonesia, it is both a police matter and a military matter; for Malaysia, it is the National Security Council that is directly under the Prime Minister`s office. In the face of these differences, much time has been spent on inter-institutional cooperation at the trilateral level, whereas inter-institutional coordination should have been implemented at its respective national level. More than a year ago, in May 2016, the three states agreed on joint patrols and information exchanges, following a series of kidnappings for ransom of foreigners by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf, who has a base on the southernmost islands of the Philippines, had beheaded some victims when the ransoms were not paid. (Id.; Ryan Healy, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia agree on anti-Piracy Patrols, Center for Security Policy Website (May 6, 2016).) According to a statement on the exercise at the closing ceremony, the Inspector General of the Indonesian Ministry of Defence, Didit Herdiawan, as a representative of Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, the exercise had been beneficial for the exchange of knowledge and capabilities in managing the terrorist threat, friendship and trust between the armed forces of the three countries and strengthening deterrence in the face of threats. The statement also stressed that the strategic value of developing trilateral cooperation in the Sulu Sea has broader strategic value for the security and stability of Southeast Asia in general. Less than a month after that first meeting, Defence Ministers met in Manila (June 20, 2016).3 Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin and Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu that a trilateral meeting, one month after their last meeting in Laos, had demonstrated their shared commitment to implementing cooperation. It appears that the commitment of the three defence ministers has effectively pushed their military personnel to accelerate the necessary agreements at the operational level. On 14 July 2016, a framework agreement was signed between the three armed forces.
The elements contained in the framework are the same as those of the joint declaration of the foreign ministers. This cooperation is widely seen as a concerted effort by the three countries to combat violent extremism and terrorism in the sub-region, particularly in light of the bloody fighting between Islamic extremists and government forces in Marawi City, in the southern Philippines, last year.