Philippines, Australia commit to expanding bilateral activities

The Philippines and Australia expressed their commitment on Friday to expanding their bilateral activities with other countries to sustain peace and security in the South China Sea.

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said they aim for all countries to be free to exercise their sovereignty consistent with international law.

“We recommitted to planning bilateral joint patrols in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea and other areas of mutual interest,” they said in a joint statement.

“We committed to expanding some of our bilateral activities in the future to include other countries committed to sustaining peace and security in our region,” they added.

The two officials made the statement after they observed joint amphibious activities between Philippine and Australian troops in Zambales on Friday, together with Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

According to a Reuters report, Marcos said the Philippines wanted a closer working relationship with the militaries of its regional neighbors in case of “any eventualities.”

“It is an important aspect of how we prepare for any eventualities, considering there have been so many events that attest to the volatility of the region,” he said.

At a joint news conference with Teodoro, Marles said the first joint patrols of the South China Sea by the two navies would “happen soon.”

Most of Australia’s trade goes through the South China Sea, and upholding international rules is a shared strategic interest with the Philippines, he earlier told ABC radio.

“A whole lot of damage can be done to Australia before any potential adversary sets foot on our shores, and maintaining the rules-based order in Southeast Asia, maintaining the collective security of Southeast Asia, is fundamental to maintaining the national security of our country,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he will make the first visit by an Australian leader to the Philippines in 20 years next month to discuss defense cooperation.

Under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, Teodoro and Marles said they are working to broaden the scope of cooperation and the complexity of activities between the Philippines and Australia.

They also agreed to respect and adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to support the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal Award.

The two officials said that they are looking forward to holding the inaugural formal Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Australia in 2024. —with Reuters/VBL, GMA Integrated News

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