THE Philippines and Australian government are looking into the conduct of joint patrols in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), their defense officials said Wednesday, February 22, 2023, amid tensions in the disputed territory.

In a joint press conference of Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles, who visited the country for the first time, they said they discussed the Philippines’ and Australia’s commitment to assert the rule of law in areas including the South China Sea.

“Today, I think Australia and the Philippines have a greater strategic alignment than we’ve had in any moment in our respective histories. Both countries are allies of the United States; both countries have China as our largest trading partner. Both the Philippines and Australia are completely committed to a global rules-based order,” said Marles.

“And so today, building on that sense of strategic alignment, we have talked about the way in which we can take what has been a very strong relationship between our two countries over many decades to an even higher level, and really, an unprecedented level,” he added.

Marles and Galvez also agreed to take further steps to strengthen the people-to-people engagements for the continued development of the two nations’ individual and joint defense capabilities.

He said Australia will send one of its biggest contingents for the conduct of annual Balikatan Exercises between Australian and Filipino soldiers.

The Philippines will also send troops to serve as observers to Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia in August.

“The training that we are having right now is basically heavy on the Army but we are trying to explore, with the agreement of both governments, to explore engagements between our Navies and also our Air Forces,” said Galvez.

“We also agreed to explore other possible areas of cooperation while reaffirming that counter-terrorism and maritime security remain as core pillars of our nations’ bilateral defense cooperation,” he added.

Galvez said there will be an annual Defense Ministerial Meeting between Australia and Philippines starting next year to further strengthen bilateral engagements at the strategic and operational levels.

Marles also paid a courtesy call to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. following a meeting with Galvez on Wednesday.

Marcos said that Marles’ visit “will be an important part of the response” to the recent acts by the Chinese Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.

“I truly believe that the future lies in strong alliances and in a united front in promoting again the values that we consider important to our countries,” said Marcos.

“You are going now to Southern Philippines to welcome a contingent from Australia. So this is extremely important that we are seeing constantly in consultation, and we are seeing to continuously promote the rule of law and the sovereignty of nations,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)