FILIPINO AWARDEES. Indonesia awards 52 Filipino Philippine military personnel and officials for the rescue of three Indonesian fishermen who were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2019 in a ceremony held in Makati on Wednesday (Aug. 8, 2022). Among the awardees are former Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana and former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. (Ret.) Cirilito Sobejana. (PNA photo)

MANILA – The Indonesian government on Wednesday awarded 52 Filipino nationals for the rescue of three Indonesian fishermen who were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2019.

Former Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana and former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of Staff Gen. (Ret.) Cirilito Sobejana received the "Medali Perdamaian" or the Medal of Peace.

Fifty members of the Western Mindanao Command who were directly involved in the rescue mission, meanwhile, were given the Medal of Dharma Defense.

Indonesian Ambassador to the Philippines Agus Widjojo said Lorenzana and Sobejana are the first Filipino nationals to receive the Medal of Peace -- a token of service awarded by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to those who "contributed greatly to advancing peace".

Sobejana, at the time of the incident, was the commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

"I have always believed in the capabilities and professionalism of the Philippine soldiers under the leadership of their commanding officers in ensuring favorable results," Widjojo said during the awarding ceremony in Makati.

"It is their sense of commitment to uphold the righteous and condemn the lawlessness that made Indonesia decide to grant them two of Indonesia’s tokens of honor: the Medal of Peace and the Dharma Medal of Defense," he added.

The three Indonesians were kidnapped while fishing in the waters of Tambisan Island in Lahad Datu, Sabah on Sept. 23, 2019.

Two of them were rescued on Dec. 22, 2019 while the remaining one was freed on Jan. 15, 2020.

During the mission, Sgt. Romnick Estacio of the Philippine Navy Marine died and two others sustained gunshot wounds.

Estacio was posthumously awarded along with the 49 AFP officers.

'Effective security cooperation'

Widjojo said the award shows the "success of effective defense and security cooperation" between the two nations.

Lorenzana, on the other hand, cited the trilateral cooperation between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, which he said greatly contributed to the progress in curbing the kidnappings in Sulu Sea.

"(The actions taken by the Philippines) and the trilateral cooperation among the three countries proved to be very effective, that for a while, there were no kidnappings in the Sulu Sea... But sometime in 2019, the (Abu Sayyaf) kidnapped three Indonesian nationals and tried to bring them to Sulu," he shared.

"Our theory proved correct that the kidnappers need the islands to successfully bring their hostages to Sulu," he added.

He said they discovered Abu Sayyaf's "elaborate operations" using the islands in Sulu Sea to initially hide their hostages, moving them from island to island, until they reach Sulu.

Widjojo, for his part, hoped the two nations could further strengthen this area of cooperation as terrorism and other kinds of transnational crimes remain an ever-present threat.

"It could take the form of joint patrolling, intelligence sharing, enhancing capacity and learning of best practices. It can take many forms but the purpose is so that when we come together to conduct a joint mission, we are already familiar with the other," he told reporters. (PNA)