Markus Junianto Sihaloho
The recent seizure by Philippine customs officers of a cargo vessel carrying firearms manufactured in Indonesia is raising more questions than answers in both countries, with Indonesia questioning the motives for the bust and a lawmaker calling for answers from the central government.
Military Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso said over the weekend that PT Pindad, the state-owned military equipment manufacturer, had been authorized to export the shipment of assault rifles and pistols by the Ministry of Defense and the State Ministry for State Enterprises.
“The Philippines is buying weaponry from Pindad, not from the TNI [Indonesian Armed Forces],” Djoko said.
The Panama-registered Captain Ufuk was detained nearly two weeks ago outside Manila, and authorities initially said the seized weapons were from Israel.
The British captain of the vessel, Bruce Jones, told authorities that the weapons, worth 100 million Philippine pesos ($2.04 million), were from Indonesia and acquired from Pindad, according to the Manila Bulletin newspaper.
The Captain Ufuk had originally set sail from Turkey and passed by ports in Africa before continuing on to Indonesia. Fernandino Tuason, the chief of the Philippine Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service, said they were investigating whether the arms were meant for possible political or terrorist activities, according to the Philippines Star.
Timbul Sitompul, a Pindad spokesman, said the shipment had been cleared out of Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port. The pistols were being purchased by a shooting club in the Philippines, he said.
The 100 rifles were bound for the Republic of Mali’s Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection, but under the contract, Pindad was assigned to only deliver them to the Captain Ufuk.
RWB Arms Inc., a Philippine company, was responsible for handling the shipment upon arrival there, Sitompul said.
“Of course, we had also received the end-user certificate from the Philippine and Mali governments approving the purchase. Without that, we would not dare to export weaponry,” he said. “The problem began after all the weaponry was taken by the vessel. I think there has been a miscommunication between the Philippine authorities and the ship’s owner,” Sitompul said.
“The ship should first contact and tell the authorities about its arrival and cargo.”
One Indonesian military source, who asked not to be named, said arm shipments, whether legal or illegal, were likely a sensitive issue in the Philippines ahead of a scheduled presidential election next year, given the country’s history of poll-related political killings.
Yusron Ihza Mahendra, a lawmaker from the House of Representatives’ Commission I on Defense and Foreign Affairs, said they would question central government officials during a meeting on Tuesday to disclose all details of the incident.
“We’re talking about weaponry, not rice,” Yusron said.