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MANILA, Philippines – Defense officials of the Philippines and Australia have discussed the possibility of conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea.
Philippine Defense Officer-in-Charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles confirmed this in a joint press briefing on Wednesday, February 22, during Marles’ first visit to the country.
Marles said the issue was tackled in talks with Galvez, with both countries “completely committed” and “deeply invested” in asserting the rule of the law in areas like the South China Sea.
“Today, I think Australia and the Philippines have a greater strategic alignment than we’ve had in any moment in our respective histories,” Marles said.
He added, “We did talk today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols and we will continue that work and we hope that that comes to fruition soon.”
Possible joint patrols with Australia come after the Philippines and US committed to restart similar patrols in the West Philippine Sea. First announced during the recent visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, talks on joint patrols with the US were now in advanced stages, according to officials from Manila and Washington.
On Wednesday, Galvez cited patrols with Australia as a past engagement that both countries could build upon as the security partners seek to have more navy-to-navy training.
“The training that we have right now is basically heavy on the Army. But what we’re trying to explore with the agreement of both governments is to have…engagement between navies and also the Air Force,” Galvez said.
Galvez also cited past patrols with Australia against piracy and terrorism as an activity both countries could build upon when exploring future joint patrols in the South China Sea. As Western Mindanao Commander in 2017, Galvez oversaw joint maritime patrols with Australia and the Naval Forces Western Mindanao in Zamboanga del Norte, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu. Trilateral air patrols were also held with Malaysia in 2018.
“We have the experience and we can do it again,” he said.
During the briefing, both officials said cooperation will also continue on counterterrorism, which remained a key pillar of defense ties.
“While the peace process has been successful, and we are seeing a reduction in the threat of terrorism, obviously, we can’t be sanguine about this, which is why it’s really important that this work continues,” Marles said.
Australia, like the United States, has a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines. It assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the 2017 Marawi siege as it flew surveillance planes to locate enemies inside the battle area. It also helped give a crash course on urban warfare to Filipino troops used to fighting in the jungles.
After the war, the two countries also agreed to conduct a training program on urban fighting for the two militaries.
Beyond military assistance, Galvez also cited aid from the Australian government for the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund, which was launched in 2021 to conduct normalization studies in the region.
Galvez also sits concurrently as a Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity. – Rappler.com