Friday, October 26, 2012
MANILA, October 26, 2012-Senator Loren Legarda today said she looks forward to stronger bilateral and security cooperation between Australia and the Philippines following President Benigno Aquino’s official visit to Australia where he met with Prime Minister Julia Eileen Gillard.
Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also said that the Philippines’ ratification of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia, which the Senator sponsored, will further enhance bilateral defense and military cooperation between the two countries.
“Australia is the largest bilateral grant aid donor to the Philippines. Since 2001, Australia has extended aid investment of around Php32 billion, while defense assistance is estimated at PhP1.16 billion. With President Aquino’s official visit to Australia, we are hopeful that this will open more areas of cooperation and bolster defense and security cooperation between our two countries,” she stressed.
Legarda explained that Australia has programmed approximately USD235 million aid for 2010-2012. It assists the Philippines in developing capacities in the field of disaster risk reduction and management such as in the Project Enhancing Greater Metro Manila's Institutional Capacities for Effective Disaster/Climate Risk Management towards Sustainable Development or the READY project. This strengthens institutional capacities of local government units and national government agencies to manage disaster and climate change risks.
Meanwhile, the SOVFA is intended to enhance cooperation on maritime terrorism and other security threats. It defines the rights as well as the responsibilities between the visiting forces and the host government on such matters as criminal and civil jurisdiction, claims, entry and exit of personnel and property, movement of vessels, aircraft and vehicles and carrying of arms, among others.
“The SOVFA also contains a unique provision on environmental protection, thus assuring us that local environmental laws will be observed in the conduct of exercises. As conceived, joint activities may also cover joint training on marine resource protection, sea search and rescue operations, disaster relief operations, and other civic action projects,” she pointed out.
“Today's security challenges require that we strengthen our defense posture through a regime of cooperation with allies with whom we share strategic security interests. Fostering strong defense relations with partners, through SOVFA, is a good defense strategy anchored on national interest, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the right to self-determination,” Legarda concluded.
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