PH, Australia up their ties to strategic partnership

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Neal Imperial and Australian DFAT Southeast Asia Maritime Division First Assistant Secretary Ridwaan Jadwat (Photo courtesy of DFA/Philip Fernandez)

The Philippine and Australian governments have reaffirmed their commitments to elevate their relations to a “strategic partnership” level, noting their “mature” ties.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday the two sides have discussed several areas of cooperation during the second Foreign Ministry Consultations held February 28 in Manila, which included ways and existing collaboration to address the pandemic.

Also discussed during the consultations were issue on defense and security; trade and investment; market access for Philippine bananas, pineapples, and dragon fruit; development cooperation particularly in Mindanao; science, innovation, and cybersecurity; people-to-people linkages; labor, education and culture; and human rights.

DFA Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Neal Imperial and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) First Assistant Ridwaan Jadwat co-chaired the consultation meeting.

Imperial said he looks forward to the full implementation soon of the 2021-2022 Plan of Action, which was endorsed at the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in August 2021.

“The Philippines and Australia now enjoy a mature relationship. After 75 years, the ties that now bind our countries have proven to be strong, reliable and forward-looking in a multitude of areas,” he said.

Jadwat, for his part, sees the extensive discussions during the meeting as a demonstration of the depth and breadth of relations between the two countries, citing it as proof that the two are in an “excellent position” to elevate relations to a strategic partnership.

Aside from the areas of concern cited, the two countries also sought to boost cultural ties, with the signing of the Executive Program (2022-2026) under the 1977 Cultural Agreement between the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Australian Office for the Arts.

The DFA said this would expand bilateral cultural exchanges in the creative industries, indigenous cultures, cultural heritage, and visual, performing, and interdisciplinary arts; and outline initiatives to further reinforce cooperation in the cultural sphere.

On the sidelines of the FMC, Australia formally returned to the Philippines a prized mid-20th century ax with Ifugao origin. The Igorot steel and wooden ax is an authentic cultural heritage artifact from Northern Luzon and was confiscated by Australian border authorities after it was shipped from the United States by an online seller.

It was subsequently handed over by officials of the Australian Government Office for the Arts (OFTA) to the Philippine Embassy in Canberra in November 2021.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Cultural Diplomacy Eduardo Martin Meñez subsequently turned over the artifact to NCCA Executive Director Oscar Casaysay.