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Ratification of Senate Resolution 788, the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia, will meet the emerging challenges in the region and strengthen both naval and maritime forces and indeed the defense force.
Filipino military men maybe the best. However, training and equipment count too in the success of addressing security threats.
The realities facing the Philippines are that the country is ill-equipped maritime forces incapable to maintain maritime security against the alarming and heightened aggressiveness posed by China today.
The threats regional and global are not imaginary, and it is imperative that Philippine defense force is trained and equipped.
One may ask why ratify?
Here are points to ponder:
1. Australia’s strategic location between the Indian and the Pacific oceans and the military structures in the north and the west make the country a very important partner in terms of maritime security. And maritime security is a shared interest with the Philippines. This is the very reason why US “re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific” has deployed troops in Darwin which will give the advantage of reaching Southeast Asia, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean fast and efficient.
Australia is the leverage to the region. The bilateral agreement with USA is also seen to address the recent aggressive mood of China in its claim for the South China Sea and the need to counterbalance an increasingly powerful China. Also, before US can help the Philippines, Australia is where the force is coming from. It just makes sense to ratify SOVFA with Australia when the Philippines has offered the same treaty with the USA.
2. Defence and security cooperation between the two countries include high level policy talks, training of approximately 130 defence personnel in Australia and visits by senior officials. The defence relationship has a budget around $4.0 to 4.5 million focused on counter terrorism, maritime security and assistance to Philippine Defence Reform Program.
In May 2007, during President Arroyo’s visit to Australia the bilateral SOVFA was signed which now needs to be ratified while Australia has ratified SOVFA in the same year 2007. In 2003 a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism was signed, and another MOU on Combating Transnational Crime was signed in Canberra. Australia’s counter-terrorism cooperation includes practical assistance in policing, immigration and port and airport security.
3. Australia is the largest grant aid donor to the Philippines with an estimate of $129 million for 2012 -13 focused on education, economic growth, stability and human security.
4. SOVFA’s concept is that it does not grant any country’s desire to expand and preserve its position of advantage over others.
5. SOVFA defines the rights and responsibilities of visitng forces and the host country on criminal and civil jurisdictions, claims, entry, and exit of personnel and property, movement of vessels, aircrafts and vehicles and carrying of arms among others.
6. SOVFA does not give basing rights nor will it authorise either country to deploy troops or conduct operations in the other’s territory.
7. There is reciprocal provision which means joint exercises.
8. It has provisions on criminal jurisdictions.
9. There is unique provision on Environmental Protection where conduct of exercises are prohibited in protected areas.
10. Australia is ASEAN’s first dialogue partner and an active ASEAN Regional Forum participant.
Are Senators Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto, Serge Osmena III, Ferdinand Marcos, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Manuel Villar so convinced and so sure that the Philippines does not need mutual defense with Australia? Do they really believe that there is no need for the Philippines to have military alliance and cooperation?
With due respect, SOVFA with Australia is not a danger nor a threat to the Philippines. In fact it provides and completes the shield of enhanced protection and security.
I am certain that Philippine senators are aware that the Philippines has several bilateral relationships from North to South and this completes the protection.
SOVFA was passed at the second reading at the Senate before the sine die adjournment and will be put to vote for the third reading when the Senate resumes next month.
Here is a case to ratify SOVFA with Australia.