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A comprehensive vision for security cooperation: the PHL-Australia experience

PPA-NOEL B. PABALATE

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s visit to Australia was a success in all measures. I refer here not only to the warm reception to President Marcos Jr. by the Australian public and leaders. During the trip, commitments were renewed and solidified, tangible pledges were made, and a much clearer picture of the relationship between the two countries emerged.

Addressing the Australian Parliament and acknowledging the multi-faceted challenges in various fronts and domains, the president articulated a comprehensive vision for security cooperation. His talk centered on the pressing issue of security in the West Philippine Sea and underscored the importance of upholding international law and safeguarding freedom of navigation.

He outlined a forward-looking vision for defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and Australia, highlighting the importance of strategic partnership and bilateral cooperation in addressing common security concerns. Throughout his speech, he reiterated the shared commitment of both nations to a rules-based order and regional stability, underscoring the critical role of collective action in confronting geopolitical threats and ensuring peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Four main topics fall under this broad scope: the West Philippine Sea, strategic partnership and bilateral cooperation, energy security, and economic partnership.

The South China Sea is a vital global waterway for regional and global peace. It is thus concerning that Chinese warships continue to be present in the West Philippine Sea, serving to highlight ongoing tensions in the region.

Seventy-eight years: this is how long the Philippines and Australia have had diplomatic ties. They collaborated during World War II. The two countries’ special relationship is shown by the fact that Australia is one of the few countries with a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, aside from the US.

With regard to energy security, President Marcos Jr. praised Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Important treaties in promoting nuclear disarmament were highlighted such as those of Bangkok and Rarotonga. The president also expressed concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, citing the buildup of global weapon stockpiles, particularly in North Korea, and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The Philippines is situated in a region where tensions involving nuclear-armed states, such as North Korea, can have direct implications for its security. Marcos Jr.’ advocacy for nuclear disarmament aligns with the country’s interests in promoting regional stability and reducing the risk of conflict. By championing nuclear disarmament and advocating for nuclear risk reduction, the Philippines under Marcos Jr. demonstrates its commitment to international peace and security.

This strengthens our country’s position in global diplomacy and aligns it with other nations striving for a world free of nuclear weapons. The Philippines’ significance in global affairs is growing, boosting its stature on the international stage and fostering closer relationships with key allies. This also means vast potential: economic opportunities, technological exchanges, and cultural cooperation, benefiting Filipinos through potential job creation and economic growth.

Most tangibly, President Marcos, Jr. secured $1.53 billion, or P86 billion, in investments, from 12 business deals signed during the Philippine Business Forum on the sidelines of his participation in the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne on Monday.

Filipino and Australian business leaders inked 12 business deals consisting of 10 memoranda of understandings (MoUs) and two letters of intent (LoIs) to invest in the Philippines. Among the projects are the design, development, commissioning, and funding of a Tier-3 Data Center with a capacity of 30 megawatts (MW) to 40 MW in the Poro Point Freeport Zone, and the building of Next-Generation Battery Manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

Recent global challenges present an opportunity for the Philippines to enhance its participation in regional and global value chains. Marcos Jr. also highlighted the country’s commitment to purposeful reforms, which is evident in key legislative amendments such as the Public Service Act, Foreign Investments Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act and the Renewable Energy Act. Other legislative amendments include the streamlined business registration, infrastructure development, and the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act), and the overhaul of fiscal incentive structures and responsive policies, including those facilitating public-private partnerships (PPP). He also highlighted the establishment of the Maharlika Investment Fund, which is the country’s sovereign wealth fund that underscores a dedication to financing priority projects and driving socioeconomic impact.

President Marcos Jr. has underlined the positive role of Australia in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically its way of deepening its engagement with its neighbors to promote their economic welfare.

Strengthening defense cooperation with Australia responds to the evolving security concerns in the West Philippine Sea. This commitment to enhancing bilateral ties not only promises economic and cultural benefits but also reinforces a rules-based order for regional stability. Central to these efforts is the safeguarding of Philippine sovereignty, the promotion of regional peace, and the pursuit of opportunities that ensure the prosperity and well-being of Filipino citizens.

Indeed, we share many things with Australia — above all a commitment to a rules-based order reflects a shared interest in upholding international laws and norms, offering a pathway to stability amidst geopolitical tensions. The strength and unity of such friendships hold great strategic value to our country and our people.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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