A partnership built on shared values
VIEWS FROM DOWN UNDER - Amanda Gorely (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2018 - 12:00am

Three weeks ago, I visited Leyte for the commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the Leyte Gulf landings. This significant military action on 20 October 1944 was the fulfilment of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous promise – ‘I shall return’ – and marked the beginning of the costly Allied struggle to liberate the Philippines from the occupying forces.

These amphibious landings triggered perhaps the largest naval battle in history, in which a powerful Japanese naval counterattack was crushed by the US Third and Seventh Fleets, augmented by Australian warships, in the waters off Leyte. Among the many who lost their lives were 92 Australians.

The selflessness, commitment and valour of all those who fought to help liberate the Philippines, serves as a timeless example to us all.

The Leyte experience formed the bedrock for a relationship that is still a story of collaboration and shared values.

Seven decades later, during last year’s Marawi siege, the Australian Defence Force provided airborne intelligence support to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) forces fighting to recapture the city from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-aligned extremists.

Then AFP Chief of Staff General Rey Guerrero told Australia’s Prime Minister that Australia’s AP-3C aircraft support had been a ‘game changer’ in the campaign.

I recently had the privilege to visit Marawi. Seeing the scenes of utter destruction, it reinforced to me the importance of Australia continuing to work closely with the Philippines and other countries in the region to counter the infiltration of Islamic State ideology in Southeast Asia.

In the year since, the governments of Australia and the Philippines have been working together to help ensure that the bitter experience of Marawi will not be repeated.

Under our bilateral Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) – which allows our armed forces to train in each other’s countries – Australia and the Philippines have strengthened our military counter-terrorism cooperation.

Since October 2017, Australia has provided nearly 7,000 AFP troops with training in urban warfare skills across the Philippines.

The Royal Australian Navy regularly works with the Philippine Navy to enhance security in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, helping to close the transit routes used by terrorists between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. At the same time, the Royal Australian Air Force facilitates joint training in the coordination of air and land effects in a combat environment.

Through our increased cooperation, Australian military personnel are learning much from their Philippine counterparts about their experiences in retaking Marawi under incredibly challenging circumstances.

In addition to our defence support during the Marawi siege, Australia has also provided AU$ 25 million (P960 million) in humanitarian assistance to people displaced by the conflict. This support has provided food and livelihood assistance to help communities to rebuild their lives following the conflict caused by ISIS. A year after the siege much work still needs to be done to support the people of Marawi.

Our defence relationship is not just about counter-terrorism. The SOVFA allows for the rapid deployment of defence personnel to provide medical assistance and reconstruction support following humanitarian emergencies. This meant, for example, that Australia could move quickly to assist the Philippines respond to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Just last year we were pleased to host a visit in Manila Bay of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on board HMAS Adelaide, the largest ship ever built for the Royal Australian Navy. The President toured the ship’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, and Philippine Armed Forces personnel gained hands on experience that will help in times of natural disaster.

Just like our shared challenges of yesteryears, the contemporary threat of transnational terrorism requires countries to work in partnership because no one country can solve this issue alone.

Although the context for our collaboration changes over time, it remains underpinned by our long shared history of collaboration and common values.

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(Amanda Gorely is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH.)

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