MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte and Australia’s top diplomat talked about the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute, terrorism, responsible mining, and the Mindanao peace process in their meeting on Friday, March 17, in Davao City.
The meeting, described as “very warm and cordial” by Malacañang, was part of Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to the Philippines from March 15 to 17. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on diplomacy in a changing world)
Duterte, clad in denim collared top and moccasins, entertained Bishop in the Presidential Guest House in Panacan. Present at the meeting were Cabinet officials like Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Peace Process Adviser Jess Dureza, and Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Dureza told Rappler that Duterte and Bishop discussed the West Philippine Sea dispute, but declined to elaborate on the details of the conversation.
Malacañang, however, said the two officials agreed on the importance of securing freedom of navigation and safety at sea.
“Both sides also stressed the need to address piracy at sea and to ensure that maritime areas are safe and secure and allow for freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella.
Prior to her meeting with Duterte, Bishop criticized China for its island-building activities in the disputed sea. She also urged the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), chaired by the Philippines this year, to use its “moral voice” against threats to security and peace in the region.
Duterte and Bishop also expressed willingness to cooperate against terrorism, a security threat for both the Philippines and Australia.
“Both underscored that terrorism and violent extremism are serious threats, with both expressing readiness to identify areas of collaboration,” said Abella.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has called on its fighters to conduct attacks in Australia and the Philippines. In Mindanao, some terror groups have already pledged allegiance to ISIS.
To help bring about peace in Mindanao, Bishop said Australia has pledged $40 million over 6 years for the peace process in the southern island. The funds will be spent on development projects like improved water facilities.
Duterte, who frequently cites Australian mining standards as the ideal standard for Philippine mines to follow, also brought up the topic of responsible mining.
“PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) expressed [the Philippines’] interest in learning responsible mining from Australia citing that country’s experience and expertise,” said Abella.
Bishop responded by saying the Australian government is willing to help the Philippines improve its capability to impose similar standards on its extractive industries.
The Foreign Minister expressed Australia’s support for the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship while Duterte gave assurances his country would strengthen ASEAN. – Rappler.com