• Amb. Ma. Hellen De La Vega

Philippine Perspective on the Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and Australia



Photo Source: Manila Times


We are celebrating a big milestone in 2021 – the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and Australia. We established formal diplomatic relations with the declaration of an independent Philippine Republic on 04 July 1946. On the eve of the inauguration of our Republic, then Philippine President Manuel Roxas broadcasted his greetings to Australia, stating, “it was from your continent that the avenging allies began the great advance which ended with the restoration of freedom to our land.'


Today, we celebrate Philippines-Australia Friendship Day on the 22nd of May of every year marking the day in 1946 when Australia established its Australian Consulate General in Manila.


Our 75th Anniversary invites us to look back at our shared history and to move together in unison towards a mature bilateral partnership that is responsive to the ever-growing complexity of our regional security landscape.


Supporting a Rules-based Regional Architecture


Both the Philippines and Australia share a similar assessment on the current state of our regional security - tensions are heightened, the rule of law is challenged and coercive action to advance legally baseless claims continue. The Philippines, as part of the same regional alliance network that includes Australia, values US regional presence as a vital stabilizing factor.


While the relations of two major powers, the US and China, will influence the future direction of our region, we believe that ASEAN and our bilateral relations with regional partners, including Australia, can be steadfast in protecting the principles of international law. We have maintained that ASEAN, given its central and strategic role, must be the voice of reason and moderation amidst geopolitical shifts as articulated in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.


On 24 January 1956, Australian Governor General W.J. Slim wrote to the first Philippine Ambassador to Australia Roberto Regala, “..we know that the security of your country is bound with the security of our own.


Governor General Slim was referring to Australia’s support for the liberation of the Philippines in 1944 sending over 4,000 defence force personnel recognizing that the invasion of the Philippines would have been one step towards an attack on Australia itself.


Today, our geography ensures that these words still ring true.


Next to our treaty ally the US, Australia is the Philippines’ second-largest partner in defense and security cooperation and one of only two Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) partners of the Philippines.


Our defense cooperation was further solidified with Australia’s assistance in combating terrorism, especially in the liberation of Marawi in 2017. Armed Forces of the Philippines Lt. General Guerrero described Australia’s surveillance and other assistance as a “game-changer” that enabled the Philippines to retake Marawi swiftly. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, during the launch of Australia’s Foreign Policy Paper on 23 November 2017 honoured the 165-armed forces personnel of the Philippines who were killed and the 1,700 wounded in operation stating, “They were defending all of us in that struggle.


The Marawi siege further highlighted the need for an effective legal framework to address terrorism. The 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act of the Philippines was enacted pursuant to our commitments to relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Australia recognizes the threat posed by terrorism in the Philippines and its impact on the region and has committed to continue working with the Philippines to ensure that counter-terrorism legislation provides an appropriate framework for responding to this threat consistent with international obligations.


Our countries are both maritime nations that drive security and economic benefits from the waters around us and at the same time have demonstrated keen sense of responsibility and respect to international law as we relate to these waters. As the ASEAN country coordinator for China during the last three years, we are deeply engaged in the negotiations on a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea that is substantive and in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his statement during the General Debate of the 75th Session of the General Assembly on 22 September 2020 said, “The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject any attempts to undermine it.


We welcome the many countries who have come in support of the award and what it stands for including Australia which disputed China’s claim that it is not bound by the Arbitral Award in a Third Person Note submitted to the United Nations on 23 July 2020.


The Philippines and Australia share a commitment to uphold maritime security in the region through support for the rights of all states to exercise freedom of navigation, and overflight in accordance with UNCLOS.


Working towards Regional Economic Recovery


From a lucrative trade of raw commodities between the ports of Manila and Sydney under the auspices of colonial powers in the 1800s, our economic partnership has evolved linking our two countries through a wide range of products and services supported by regional trade networks.


Australia is a major trade and investment partner of the Philippines and our two countries work together through the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and soon in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). There is much incentive for our two countries to do more in enhancing our economic partnership.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about both global health crisis and economic crisis and our response to each affects the other.


Before the pandemic, the Philippines registered growth above 6 percent in the last 8 years with investment-grade credit rating from the major credit rating agencies. The poverty rate was cut to record low 16.7 percent, four years ahead of schedule. Despite the setbacks, the Philippines still remains a conducive place to do business and is considered one of the top emerging economies and countries for investments.


The presence of more than 300 Australian companies, employing 44,000 Filipinos in the Philippines is a manifestation of Australian investor confidence in the Philippines. These companies ventured into the Philippine market and optimized the strength of the Philippines in terms of world-class talent and sound business climate. They never looked back.


Our focus is generating more Australian investments in electronics, automotive industry, aerospace, copper and IT-BPM with the recent launch of our new investment campaign, Make It Happen in the Philippines. The government believes that a strong private sector is key to a sustainable recovery. To this end, the government continues to create the enabling environment for business to thrive. Recently, the Philippine Congress passed the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE law), which lowers corporate income tax and provides more flexibility for government in the grant of investment incentives.


Philippine businesses also have significant investments in Australia from the most technology advanced container terminal in the Port of Melbourne operated by Filipino company International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) to the presence of major Philippine conglomerates San Miguel, Monde Nissin and Ramcar which have successfully penetrated the Australian market.


Through bilateral mechanisms, the Philippine and Australian governments are

working together to pursue efforts that will advance growth and prosperity, through

cooperation in health security, governance and economic recovery.


Nurturing People-to-People Connections


Even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, our people-to-people linkages began with the arrival of the First Filipinos in the 1860s as pearl divers in Broome. They were known as the Manilamen. The Manilamen made lasting social and economic contributions in Broome, Darwin and Torres Strait where they first settled. These positive contributions have evolved as tradition and a legacy that would continue with the next waves of Filipino migrants.


According to the 2016 Census, 301,169 people in Australia claim Philippine ancestry (at least one parent born in the Philippines). Of this number, 246,400 are born in the Philippines. They comprise 1.2% of the total Australian population, up from 0.8% in 2011.


We celebrate the accomplishment of many Filipinos in Australia who have made significant strides in their respective fields and have nurtured the friendship between our two peoples.


Our investment in this bilateral relationship is further exemplified with the reopening of a career Philippine Consulate General in Melbourne. With the Philippine Embassy in Canberra, the Philippine Consulate General in Sydney and Melbourne, and Philippine Honorary Consular Officers in Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Hobart and Adelaide, the Philippine Government has a presence in all states and territories of Australia.


As Filipinos begin to look at Australia as its top destination for overseas education including through online courses, we are confident the people-to-people linkages between our two countries will build mutual understanding and trust between our future leaders.


Conclusion


As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations this year, let us remember three important points in our bilateral relations with Australia:


One, our partnership is grounded in the shared values of democracy, respect for human rights, and adherence to the rule of law. These deeply rooted values serve as the foundation to our aspiration to elevate our relationship to new heights.


Second, our common maritime heritage that binds us. The future of the region and the prosperity of our peoples will rely heavily on a rules-based regime that governs our oceans and together we uphold the principles enshrined in international law.


Finally, we must learn from our shared history which tells us both our countries have long understood that our destinies are intrinsically tied together. In 1998, when the region was still in the process of recovering from the financial crises, former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos, who at that time has recently retired, visited Australia with a passionate pitch for progressing Philippines-Australia relations. In a speech, he said, “We of the Philippines like to think of ourselves as being potentially one of your most valuable partners in East Asia – where Australia’s economic and political future lies…The Philippines indeed is your place, as a second base for action – for every Australian investor who cares, shares and dares.


The Philippines-Australia bilateral relationship has been strong and steadfast in the last 75 years. Let us work together to ensure that in the next 75 years, this relationship will continue to make important contributions to progress and peace of both our countries and the region.


Happy 75th Anniversary to the Philippines and Australia!

The remarks was delivered in March 2021 in Canberra, Australia to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and Australia. The event was attended by Filipino Community Leaders in the Australian Capital Territory and officials from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


H.E. Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega is the Philippine Ambassador to Australia.

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