Amid security concerns in the South China Sea, President Duterte expressed his commitment to have better ties with Australia, particularly in the fight against terrorism and ensuring freedom of navigation in the high seas.
Duterte, who has adopted an independent foreign policy, made the commitment during his meeting with Australian Foreign minister Julie Bishop in Panacan, Davao City.
“Both emphasized the importance of (Philippines)-Australia relations and the need to broaden cooperation on mutually important issues,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
Abella said both officials underscored that terrorism and violent extremism are serious threats, with both expressing readiness to identify areas of collaboration.
“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,” Abella added.
Abella said the Chief Executive also assured Bishop that the country would do its utmost for a strengthened Asean and “a region that is peaceful, progressive and prosperous.”
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The Australian government, for its part, committed to support the peace process in Mindanao and announced it would contribute 40 million Australian dollars or P1.54 billion over the next six years for various projects in the area.
In return, Abella said Duterte expressed the country’s interest to learn responsible mining from Australia given its experience and expertise.
Bishop assured Duterte that Australia is willing to cooperate in building capacities for responsible mining and use of energy resources.
“It was a very warm and cordial meeting which reaffirmed the long-standing ties between (the Philippines and Australia),” Abella said.
“It sets the tone for a more positive engagement between the two countries as strategic partners,” he added.
Bishop said Australia would also provide 90 million Australian dollars (P3.4 billion) over nine years to support conflict-sensitive quality basic education services in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao through a programme called Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao (PATHWAYS).
She announced the financial assistance during the launching of the new basic educational support in Davao City before her meeting with Duterte.
Bishop, who arrived here yesterday for the launching of the programme and the meeting with Duterte, then left for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia also for a visit.
“We know that there is more to be done in the peace process. And the Australian government has been a great supporter of the efforts to bring peace to the southern Philippines… it’s a matter of significance within our development programme to ensure that we can continue to support the Philippines in its progress towards peace,” she said.
Bishop said that the $40 million aid would be for projects in conflict-affected areas like water supply and infrastructure – “things that local people need to get ahead and get on with their lives.”
“We’ll also be supporting the peace agreements and providing technical assistance to ensure that the peace agreements can be concluded,” Bishop added.
The government is pursuing talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front to achieve peace and stability in Mindanao, which would include a reform of the ARMM.
Bishop said Australia continues to be a partner of the Philippines and “we want to assist as a neighbour and as a friend.”
“So with our support to education, with our support for the peace process… may our relationship endure for there is great affection between the people of the Philippines and the people of Australia,” she further said.
PATHWAYS was launched in simple ceremonies at the Marco Polo Hotel Davao led by Bishop herself, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and ARMM executive secretary Laisa Alamia.
It will take the place of the Basic Education Assistance to Mindanao programme (BEAM), which will end in July.
Australia’s investment will improve equity and performance in basic education by children in ARMM and contribute to more resilience, stability, peace and prosperity in the region.
The PATHWAYS programme complements Australia’s longstanding cooperation with the Philippine government on peace, stability and educational reform.
Australia is a longstanding and trusted development partner in the education sector in the Philippines.
In Mindanao, Australia has previously supported the BEAM (2002 to 2009); the Philippines Response to Indigenous Peoples’ and Muslim Education programme (PRIME, 2011 to 2014); and the BEAM from 2012 to 2017.
While here, Bishop also met with beneficiaries of BEAM-ARMM, including teachers trained in English, Math and Science in support of national implementation of the K to 12 programme; former out-of-school youth (OSY) who are now graduates of technical and vocational training courses; and some of the young students of Tahderiyyah centers. Tahderiyyah is a project for children in conflict-affected areas.
Bishop also cited that this year, the Philippines is chairing the Asean meetings and again, Australia looks forward to working closely with Manila as it takes on this most important leadership role in the region.
“And so I look forward to returning to the Philippines in relation to Asean meetings,” she said.
Bishop also met with acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo at the department and spoke at the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday in Manila.
During the campaign, Duterte lashed out at the Australian ambassador to Manila for commenting on his joke that he should have been first in line to rape an Australian missionary before she was murdered in Davao City in 1989.