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Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister The Hon Richard Marles MP, Philippines’ Secretary of National Defence Carlito G. Galvez – Joint Press Conference

SUBJECTS: Australia-Philippines relationship.

CARLITO G. GALVEZ, SECRETARY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE: Honourable Richard Marles, members of the Australian delegation, our Australian ambassador, fellow officials and workers in government, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. The Department of National Defense (DND) welcomes Honourable Richard Marles. I call him Richard because I’ve been in Australia for almost one and a half years for my master’s, and we do it the Australian way, first-name basis, and we welcome the visit of the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence during his official visit here in the Philippines. This visit has demonstrated the steadfast commitment of the Australian and the Philippine governments to further deepen our bilateral defence relations between our nations.

As Deputy Prime Minister Marles said, Australia’s relationships across the region are founded on history, personal connections and shared interests. Our two nations look forward in elevating our partnership as agreed by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last November.

During our meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and I discussed the defence cooperation between our countries, in particular, we recalled the successful conduct of last year’s bilateral dialogue platforms and various engagements across several areas of cooperation. We also agreed to explore other possible areas of cooperation while reaffirming that counter-terrorism and maritime security remain as core pillars of our nations’ bilateral defence cooperation.

We reaffirm the need to continue working together towards the common goal of maintaining a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region. The Philippines also reiterated its appreciation to Australia for its consistent support to the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal award, and at the same time, its continued support during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the information of everybody, the Australian government donated more than 8 million doses of vaccines. The Philippines and Australia believe in the importance of collaboration among like-minded security partners to achieve a collective security and defence – those are the words of our honourable visitor – in the region, where nations could freely exercise their sovereign rights while pursuing stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region.

Building on the consensus between our defence departments to regularly meet through the establishment of a Defence Ministerial Meeting (DMM), I look forward to the next meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Marles in Australia, a homecoming for me, considering I really, really love Australia like family, and explore joint patrols and joint trainings with friends and allied countries. Again, the visit was very significant to us, and we thank the Ambassador for making it a very successful and very warm visit. Thank you very much.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, can I start by thanking Secretary Galvez and General Centino for having me and my delegation here. It feels very significant to the leading the first ministerial delegation from our country to the Philippines since the election here, and indeed the election in Australia last year. And what’s really clear as Charlie and I have got to meet straightaway, there is a sense of rapport and warmth and friendship in our relationship, which I think speaks to the warmth that exists between our two nations. There are deep connections over a long period of time between Australia and the Philippines. Deep people-to-people connections. Today, the Filipino Australian community numbers 400,000, which is one of the largest diasporas in our country, and indeed one of the largest Filipino diasporas around the world. And what that means is that there are so many people across both of our countries who have deep connections with each other in our respective countries. And those connections underpin a sense of warmth, a sense of trust, a sense of affection. And so when we start talking about our strategic interests and the matters that go to our nations, those discussions happen upon a really solid personal human foundation of trust, friendship and affection, and that matters.

Today, I think Australia and the Philippines has a greater strategic alignment than we’ve had in any moment in our respective histories. Both countries are allies of the United States. Both countries have China as our largest trading partners. Both the Philippines and Australia are completely committed to a global rules-based order. It is deeply connected to our respective national interests, that the rules of the road as they apply in a body of water such as the South China Sea – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Freedom of Navigation, the Freedom of Overflight –  all of these principles are completely central to our national interests, and as Charlie said, to our collective security. And so today, building on that sense of strategic alignment, we have talked about the way in which we can take what has been a very strong relationship between our two countries over many decades to an even higher level, and really an unprecedented level. Later this year, we look forward to signing the strategic partnership between our two countries, which comes on top of the first meeting between Prime Minister Albanese and President Marcos in November of last year.

As Charlie and I have both said, we will be establishing on an annual basis now, as a result of today’s meeting, a Defence Ministers Meeting between our two countries so that it becomes a formed institutional part of the architecture of our two countries. And we look forward to the first of those meetings after this occurring in Australia where we will be welcoming Charlie back to his second home where Charlie studied in Australia, and we really look forward to the opportunity of that.

We’re going to work together to look at ways in which we can deepen the opportunities where Filipino servicemen and women can work alongside Australian servicemen and women. And to that end, building upon the training which is occurring right now in Mindanao, but also looking at ways in which we can pursue joint patrols together in the South China Sea. And looking at ways in which we can do more exercises together, we are sending one of the largest contingents to Exercise Balikatan in the coming months. And we look forward to the Philippines for the first time sending observers to exercise Talisman Sabre, in Australia in August.

All of this speaks to a deepening relationship, a relationship built on a very strong foundation, both at the level of government but at the level of people. And we’re really excited and filled with optimism about where this relationship goes.

Finally, if I may, Charlie, can I just express my condolences to both Australian and Filipino families of those who died in the very tragic plane accident that’s occurred in the last few days. This has been a very difficult event. We are really grateful for the efforts that Filipino servicemen have undertaken in responding to this. And we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of two of their lives in those efforts. And so we want to express our gratitude for all that has been done in the aftermath of that accident, but also do extend our condolences to those who have tragically lost their lives. In the midst of this tragedy, is a moment where the really personal nature of the relationship between our two countries is very manifest and felt very profoundly. But with those words, thank you very much, Charlie, for having us. It has been an absolute privilege to be here.

JOURNALIST: Good morning Sirs. As mentioned in the opening statement of Secretary Galvez, one of the key focus in the Philippine-Australian defence alliance in the recent years was the global campaign on counterterrorism. We are now seeing troops, as you also mentioned Sir, of the Australian Defence Force holding joint exercises with Philippine Army  troops in the Southern Philippines, in Mindanao. If I’m not mistaken, this is not the first time that our forces are holding joint drills in the South. Sir, can you give us a sense on how crucial these joint trainings are for both of our nations? And is terrorism still a persistent threat despite the shifting security environment in the region, meaning the focus now of countries like the Philippines and the US on the China-Taiwan tensions, as well as threats posed by North Korea, which obviously, are all posing a varying range of defence concerns?

MARLES: Well, let me firstly say that what we’ve seen in in Mindanao over the last few years is a really significant reduction in the threat of terrorism as a result of the peace process, which has been undertaken by the Philippine Government, by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. And can I acknowledge the role that the Charlie, that Secretary Galvez, has played in in respect of this. This is fundamentally an achievement of the Philippine Government. And that’s where credit really lies. We have been honoured to be able to play a small part from an Australian point of view in terms of the training that we’ve been able to do in Mindanao. And we are really pleased that that training has been able to evolve into the joint exercises that you have described. And from what Charlie and I were speaking about earlier today, I think that is appreciated at the Filipino end. Certainly from an Australian point of view, I’d want to observe that those who I’ve spoken to who have engaged in this training and those exercises, really appreciate the opportunity. So this is this is a two way street. And it’s something that we really appreciate is the opportunity to have this cooperation.

Whilst 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, because I think that’s the way in which we ensure that there is the capability in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to make sure that the current favourable situation can be maintained. And finally, I just want to say that, you know, I spoke earlier about how we see the defence to defence relationship between our two countries growing, it starts there. And so the opportunity of working together in this way, we hope, really blossoms into a much bigger defence to defence relationship between our two countries, which does seek to build our collective security, which does seek to help contribute to upholding the rules-based order in our region.

SECRETARY GALVEZ: On our part, the joint training that the Australians are doing since the time of I think… I have personal experience of seeing them in 2018 when I was still the Chief of Staff, and I am even the first one to open simultaneous training in 10th Infantry Division in Davao.

The training is very tedious and very meaningful to our soldiers because it gave them the confidence and the skills to really fight the terrorists, and you have seen the effect of that in what we have done in Marawi. And you see here the confidence of the people to really fight the terrorists. And the extent of the training that the Australians are doing with us, is from 10th Division they travelled also to 1st Division. Now, we just opened another course, joint courses, these are multiple courses – more or less 5 to 6 courses, wherein small unit training and also logistics training are being given to our non-commissioned officers.

The impact in terms of the capability is very tremendous. You can see the confidence of our soldiers, both infantry and special units that we were able to train. We are very thankful that the skills have been completely transferred to our soldiers. We have seen now that terrorism has dramatically decreased in these areas.

In 2018, there were a lot of kidnappings, there were a lot of sea-jackings that’s happening, but right now, we are very thankful that since 2021 and 2022, we have a very minimal skirmishes with the terrorists and at the same time, we see the significant increase of economic activity in Sulu, in the BARMM area, and also the GDP of BARMM increased by 7.5 and the poverty incidents decreased by more or less, 15 to 20%.

And additionally, it is not only the support of the training that the Australian are giving, the embassy, the Chief of Mission is actually actively involved in the dialogue with our former rebels, former Abu Sayyaf rebels. I think at accounting they have already transformed the lives of these rebels and their families into peaceful communities. One of those rebels is now a barangay captain – an Abu Sayyaf from Basilan, now a barangay captain. That is how effective the transformation, the program that is being given by the Australian government.

And we really acknowledge the support of Australia and the Chief of Mission, and the Australian team in the Philippines. Their support in the peace process in the Bangsa Moro is very significant, particularly on the Bangsa Moro National Trust Fund and also the donations that they have given us, in order for the combatants to normalise their lives. So, on behalf of the Philippine government, we really thank the generosity and the dedication, despite that they are traveling even to those different places. Only a few embassies have travelled to Sulu and Basilan, and they frequently go to these places in Cotabato, Sulu and other areas. Fifty-one provinces they have already travelled, just to make sure that Australia will become responsive and relevant to our counter-terrorism,  and also maritime security affairs.

JOURNALIST: Morning Sirs. It was mentioned earlier in your opening statements that joint patrols in the South China Sea were being discussed. How soon might this take place and are other areas also be explored? And also are naval exercises being considered perhaps in the future?

SECRETARY GALVEZ: In fact, Australia is one of the first who joined us in joint patrols. If you remember, during the time when I was still a WESTMINCOM Commander, we had a joint patrol at the Celebes and Sulu sea. And it really contributed to the security and the coming up of the Trilateral Defence Cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia. The early bilateral patrols that we conducted inspired a better organisation that we had a trilateral agreement that became a model to our Asia Pacific region.

I believe that is our intent and our aspiration – to have some sort of more intensive service-to-service engagement. The training that we are having right now is basically heavy on the Army but we are trying to explore, with the agreement of both governments, to have explored engagements between navies and also the air force. But we have the experience and we can redo it again, the joint approach that we have done can be also given attention by both countries.

MARLES: Yeah, well, obviously endorse everything Charlie’s just said. We are seeing a growth in the complexity of the exercises that we are doing with each other as I mentioned, Exercise Balikatan later – well, in just a couple of months – and Talisman Sabre later in the year, but Indo-Pacific Endeavour is another exercise that Australia pursues. It has a very heavy naval component to it. The Philippines will be very central to Indo-Pacific endeavour this year. And we look forward to a visit here as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour in the coming months. We are both countries which, as I said earlier, are committed to the maintenance of the global rules-based order. We’re both countries who are deeply invested in asserting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea throughout the world, but in places like the South China Sea, where most of Australia’s trade traverses. And so as countries which are committed to the global rules-based order, it is natural that we should think about ways in which we can cooperate in this respect. And so 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.


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