MANILA (Agencies): In a move aimed at addressing regional challenges and enhancing their security and economic ties, the Philippines and Australia have solidified their strategic partnership. This significant development follows a meeting between Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Manila.
Prime Minister Albanese’s visit marks the first bilateral talks with an Australian prime minister in Manila in two decades and underscores the growing cooperation between the two nations since President Marcos assumed office in 2022.
Under this strategic partnership, both countries intend to expand collaboration across various domains, including defense, security, climate change, and education.
Albanese, speaking after the signing of the agreement, emphasized the importance of this elevation in their relationship and their shared commitment to strengthen cooperation. He also acknowledged the challenges posed by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the militarization of disputed islands, which has prompted Australia and the United States to deepen defense ties with the Philippines.
President Marcos expressed gratitude to Albanese for Australia’s steadfast support in addressing maritime claims that are “not valid,” alluding to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. He described their partnership as encouraging and emphasized the importance of friends and partners like Australia.
Albanese characterized the Philippines and Australia as “great friends” and expressed his hope that his visit would elevate their relationship to an even higher level. The strategic partnership represents the highest level of bilateral ties that Australia has established with the Philippines.
The South China Sea remains a point of contention, with China asserting territorial claims that have been rejected by an international tribunal. The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, also has overlapping claims in the region.
While former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte leaned toward China, the Marcos administration has pursued a different approach, seeking to strengthen ties with traditional security partners, including Australia.
Both countries recently conducted a significant joint military exercise near the disputed waters, emphasizing their commitment to preparedness for various scenarios.
Other agreements signed during the talks include a memorandum of understanding for reciprocal work and holiday visas and an agreement to hold an annual meeting of defense ministers.
Human Rights Watch had urged Prime Minister Albanese to address human rights concerns during the talks, particularly regarding the controversial drug war initiated by Duterte. The organization emphasized the importance of addressing human rights issues in the context of deepening defense and security ties between the two nations.