Military ties between Australia and the Philippines date back to 1922 when Rear Admiral John Saumarez Dumaresq, the captain of HMAS Sydney during the last two years of the First World War (1917-1918) and the first Australian born commander of the Australian fleet, was accorded the equivalent of a State Funeral in Manila. Australia’s current defense engagement with the Philippines is underpinned by an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program, with key pillars of maritime security and counter-terrorism.
In February, during President Marcos’s five-day official trip to Tokyo, the Philippines and Japan affirmed their commitment to strengthen defense and security cooperation. Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a joint statement this would be done through “strategic reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology, continuous cooperation on previously-transferred defense equipment and capacity building.”
In April, the United States and the Philippines announced plans to expand the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to include four new sites: Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac Island in Palawan; and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan. These new locations, in addition to the five existing sites, will strengthen the interoperability of the US and Philippine Armed Forces and allow them to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including natural and humanitarian disasters. The US Department of Defense also said it will work in lockstep with the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines to rapidly pursue modernization projects at these locations.
In June, the defense chiefs of US, Japan, Australia and the Philippines agreed to step up security cooperation in an effort to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea. The meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the annual Asia Security Summit in Singapore, was the first-ever defense ministerial talks involving the four countries.
The defense chiefs “affirmed that they have a vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ and collectively make efforts to ensure the vision continues to thrive.” Among the plans being considered are joint maritime patrols by vessels of the four countries in the South China Sea, with the apparent aims of monitoring the movements of the Chinese military and acting as a deterrent, according to a diplomatic source.
Guam Rep. James Moylan, who serves on the US House Armed Services Committee, said in an op-ed article at The Hill that the Philippines should be added to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD)—a strategic security grouping composed of US, India, Japan and Australia.
“As strong of a message as joint patrols are, our show of support for the Philippines must be multi-faceted. The United States should work to update and strengthen our mutual defense pact with the Philippines, ensuring a new era of cooperation can be formalized and continue the long friendship our two countries have enjoyed,” he said.
The US government is steering its other allies in increasing military presence in the South China Sea and helping the Philippines improve its capacity to deter China’s continuing harassment and coercion in the disputed seas. Ranking officials from the US State Department, US Department of Defense, and Coast Guard made this commitment during the hearing of the US House of Representatives foreign relations’ subcommittee on Indo-Pacific on Thursday in Washington D.C. (Read the BusinessMirror report, “Multilateral West Philippine Sea patrols with US, other allies eyed,” September 29, 2023).
“We are strongly supportive of not just bilateral patrols but exploring opportunities for multilateral patrols with the Philippines and with other partners as well,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Lindsey Ford.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs Dr. Jung Pak said: “One of the things that we’re working on with our allies and partners is globalizing the South China Sea issue. So much of the global economy runs through the South China Sea and it’s a vital economic throughway. So, this is not just about China, this is not just about the countries in the region, it’s vital for Europe, it’s vital for us.”
President Marcos has said while the government does not want any conflict with China, his administration is ready to defend the country’s maritime territory. Marcos on Friday said he will not allow China to erect any barriers within the West Philippine Sea, which can hamper the movements of Filipino fishermen.
The President’s boldness has encouraged the country’s allies to join the Philippines in countering China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, and its estimated 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.