We can certainly do better, in terms of growing our economy, protecting national security, and enriching our cultural life, with a little help from our friends.
The Philippines and Australia recently agreed to enhance their partnership by elevating their relations from a comprehensive to a strategic partnership. This essentially means expanding cooperation in various areas of endeavor.
The Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership (JDSP) signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week, in the words of the president, represents “a very, very important development” for our two countries.
“The Philippines and Australia share a long history of cooperation and an even longer history of friendship, and it is fitting that the elevation of our relations…signals our mutual commitment to deepening collaboration across a spectrum of areas that are vital to both our countries’ growth and prosperity,” he pointed out.
For his part, Albanese said the signing of a new Strategic Partnership and other memoranda of understanding (MOU) “is an important symbol of the strength of our relationship and our shared commitment to do more together.”
Albanese’s official visit to the Philippines is the first by an Australian head of government in 20 years.
In fact, the Philippines and Australia have maintained 77 years of friendship, spanning a wide and diverse range of concerns, from defense and security to economic cooperation and people-to-people cooperation.
Australia is the Philippines’ second largest partner in defense and security and one of only two bilateral partners with whom we maintain a Visiting Forces Agreement VFA, apart from the United States.
It is also the Philippines’ 14th largest trading partner in 2022 and the country’s 11th largest source of total Official Development Assistance (ODA) amounting to US$180 million as of December last year.
The Strategic Partnership will enhance defense and security cooperation, strengthen counter-terrorism and law enforcement, and facilitate common action on mitigating climate change and achieving sustainable development goals.
As a result of our upgraded bilateral ties, Australia will introduce new reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangements, double the number of slots for Filipinos in the Australia Award scholarships, re-establish the Philippine Institute at the Australian National University, and provide $4.4 million Australian grant for collaborative research on National Soil Health Strategy in the Philippines.
Canberra will also support a new five-year program focused on reducing violent conflict, reintegrating former combatants and improving community development livelihoods.
All told, a new era in our bilateral relations with our neighbor to the south has opened up, with bright prospects for closer cooperation in various fields in the years ahead.