Philippine, Australian Agreement Focuses on ‘Regional Security Challenges’

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila
2021-08-18
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Philippine, Australian Agreement Focuses on ‘Regional Security Challenges’ A member of the Australian Defense Forces watches Philippine Marines fire at targets during training exercises at the Gen. Gregorio Lim Marine Base southwest of Manila, Dec. 18, 2017.
AP

Regional allies the Philippines and Australia agreed to boost logistical support and make it easier for them to work together in addressing security challenges, officials said Wednesday. 

The Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA) is expected to deepen longstanding defense relations, both nations said. Australian officials said the pact is similar to one Canberra entered into with New Delhi in 2020 that allowed military ships and aircraft to refuel and access each other’s military bases.

“As Australia and the Philippines face a rapidly evolving strategic environment, seeking new opportunities like this is increasingly important for deepening defense engagement,” said Steven J. Robinson, Australian ambassador to the Philippines, in a statement. “For example, it will be easier for both countries to respond to humanitarian disasters in our region together.”

The Australian embassy did not provide details as to when the MLSA would take effect or if it has been signed. The Philippine defense department officials confirmed the agreement but did not give additional details, deferring to their Australian counterparts.

Robinson said the agreement would help both countries’ “regional security challenges” but did not identify those challenges. Australia has been one of the Philippines’ top supporters in its territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea. 

China’s expansive claims include waters within claimed territories of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone as well.

Existing pact

The Philippines has an existing military pact with Australia.

In September 2012, Manila and Canberra signed the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement that allows for the entry of Australian troops into the Philippines.

That agreement was instrumental during a post-disaster response after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 that left thousands of people dead. The pact facilitated the rapid deployment of medical assistance, humanitarian and reconstruction support involving more than 500 service personnel along with aircraft and a navy ship. 

In 2017, Australia sent troops to the southern Philippines to provide intelligence that helped defeat militants linked to the Islamic State who took over the city of Marawi.

Meanwhile, a U.S. warship, the USS Charleston, arrived in the Philippines on Monday for a resupply shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte announced that a security alliance with Washington was back on track. 

The visit, the first by a commissioned U.S. warship since 2019, highlights the strong alliance, military relationship and renewed engagements between the two countries, the U.S. said.

Crew members were not allowed to leave the ship because of COVID-19 safety protocols. 

“Our U.S. Navy ships’ presence at sea and in ports like Manila promote security and stability that drives the peace and prosperity for the benefit of regional countries,” Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, said in a statement.

The port call occurred weeks after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Manila on July 30.

During Austin’s visit, Duterte announced he was restoring the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. after earlier threatening to scrap it. The VFA, signed in the late 1990s, provides legal cover for large-scale joint military exercises between Washington and Manila.

In February 2020, Duterte said he was ending the 22-year-old pact after Washington had denied a visa to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, his former national police chief and main enforcer of his administration’s war on drugs.

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