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Aussie FM bares PCG aid package

Pia Lee Brago - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines —  Visiting Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has announced a package of initiatives aimed at enhancing maritime cooperation, as well as bigger official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippines for this year and in 2024.

Wong had a bilateral meeting yesterday with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo during which they discussed the status of the Comprehensive Partnership between the Philippines and
 Australia guided by the Philippines-Australia Plan of Action 2021-2022.

Wong said maritime cooperation initiatives include technical assistance and capacity building for the Philippine Coast Guard; transfer of equipment, skills and technology to improve maritime domain awareness and marine protection; assistance to mitigate the environmental impacts of the recent oil spill in Mindoro,  and support for women’s leadership in maritime security.

She also announced an increase in Australia’s ODA to the Philippines to A$89.9 million in 2023-2024.

The increase is in addition to A$10.95 million Australian commitment to support the Philippines in establishing a new immunization information system as well as in strengthening laboratory network and surveillance system, addressing disruptions to routine immunization during the pandemic.

The officials recognized their countries’ multifaceted and longstanding partnership in the areas of defense, maritime, counterterrorism, peace-building, law and justice, health, science and innovation, disaster risk reduction, education and training cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges.

They also reaffirmed the two countries mutual commitment to support each other’s bid for a seat in the UN Security Council – for 2027 to 2028 for the Philippines and 2029-2030 for Australia.

Manalo and Wong exchanged views on regional issues, including the South China Sea, and reiterated the importance of strict adherence to international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia formally rejected in July 2020 China’s territorial and maritime claim in the South China Sea, in accordance with the 2026 ruling issued by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. Wong’s four-day official visit ends today.

Meanwhile, soldiers from the Philippine Army and their Australian counterparts began on Monday their more than a month-long joint exercises in jungle and urban operations in Rizal province.

The Army’s Jungle Fighter 2nd Infantry Division engaged Australian troops in exercises aimed at enhancing their skills in jungle and urban operations, and in breaching operations, tactical casualty care, jungle survival training, as well as in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, according to Lt. Col. Hector Estolas, public information officer of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.

He said the exercises also involved sharing of actual operational experiences in defeating terrorist groups.

The activity– to conclude on June 3 – represents the first set of the joint maneuver with troops from the Australian Defense Force (ADF). The second batch is set for June 3 to June 23.

Brig. Gen. Jose Augusto Villareal, assistant division commander of the 2ID said the joint exercise is also expected to boost bilateral relations between the Philippines and Australia.

Col. Paul Joseph Barta, Australian defense attaché; and Maj. Edwin Taber, commanding officer, Land Mobile Training Team represented the 43-member ADF contingent from the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. - Ed Amoroso

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