Australia announced Thursday a maritime cooperation initiative package for the Philippines, including technical assistance and capacity building for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) as well as increased Official Development Assistance (ODA) for several initiatives, including the Mindanao peace process.

The announcement came following a bilateral meeting between Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong during her  official visit to the Philippines.

“Building on the already deep and wide-ranging maritime security cooperation between Australia and the Philippines, Minister Wong announced a package of maritime cooperation initiatives, including technical assistance and capacity building for the Philippine Coast Guard; equipment, skills and technology to improve maritime domain awareness and marine protection; assistance to mitigate the environmental impacts of the recent oil spill in Mindoro; and support for women’s leadership in maritime security,” read a joint statement by Australia and the Philippines.

“Minister Wong announced that Australia’s Official Development Assistance to the Philippines would increase to an estimated AU$89.9 million in 2023-2024 to support programs including cooperation on shared priorities including inclusive economic growth, education, training and scholarships, disaster and climate resilience, and peace and stability in Mindanao.”

The new Australian aid is in addition to an AU$10.95 million commitment to support the Philippines to establish a new immunization information system and a strengthened laboratory network and surveillance system, addressing disruptions to routine immunization during the pandemic.

Both sides reaffirmed mutual commitment to supporting the Philippines’ 2027-2028 candidature in and Australia’s 2029-2030 bid for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The two officials also exchanged views on the region, including the South China Sea, and agreed on the importance of securing a region that is open, stable and prosperous, where sovereignty is respected and where nations abide by the agreed rules and norms.

They both reiterated the importance of all states adhering to international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), with Manalo acknowledging Australia’s strong support for the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal Award.

Wong reaffirmed Australia’s steadfast commitment to ASEAN centrality and ASEAN-led architecture.

Manalo and Wong welcomed the Quad’s commitment to support a peaceful and stable, rules-based region with ASEAN at the center, through its efforts to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific as well as support for the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook in the Indo-Pacific region.

Both officials are referring to the Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States.

The two officials also look forward to continued transparent discussion on AUKUS particularly on its objective to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. AUKUS is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.

They also agreed during the meeting to enhance trade and investment cooperation, including exploring possible cooperation on critical minerals, and to continue exploring opportunities to improve two-way tourism.  

“Both looked forward to further strengthening people-to-people connections through the Work and Holiday Visa Arrangement being negotiated between the two countries,” the joint statement read.

“The Secretary and the Minister looked forward to the convening of the 6th Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) by their Foreign Affairs and Trade Departments to be held in Australia in the fourth quarter of 2023.”

Wong also met President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in a courtesy visit in Malacañang last Thursday, where the Philippine leader reiterated that an enhanced partnership is extremely important for nations in the Asia Pacific given the current geopolitical situation.

Marcos hopes that Wong’s visit will add to those efforts “when we are continuing to try and strengthen all our partnerships in terms of trade, in terms of people-to-people relationship, and in security and defense.” | PND