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Australia-Philippines Relations: A Call for Balanced Engagement and Democratic Reforms

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The bilateral relations between Australia and the Philippines have entered a pivotal phase, marked by Australia’s invitation to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to address both houses of the Australian Parliament on February 29, 2024. This invitation reflects the strategic importance of the Philippines in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in light of its strategic location and historical ties with the United States. Following the 38th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Uprising, President Marcos Jr.’s visit has reignited discussions on the Philippines’ political landscape and its implications for Australia-Philippines relations.

The Australians for Philippine Human Rights Network (APHRN) has outlined a comprehensive stance on this engagement, urging the Australian government to bolster democratic reforms and human rights in the Philippines. The network emphasises the need for Australia to support the Philippines in asserting its rights over the West Philippine Sea, in line with the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. Additionally, APHRN advocates for enhanced trade relations, focusing on technological advancements in agriculture and support for small businesses.

This call for support comes at a time when the Philippines grapples with internal political tensions and the legacy of past administrations. President Marcos Jr.’s tenure has been marked by efforts to distance his administration from his father’s authoritarian rule amidst growing calls for constitutional change and concerns over the entrenchment of political power.

In response to these complex dynamics, the APHRN highlights several areas where Australian engagement could foster significant positive change, including human rights protection, economic development, workers’ rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, gender justice, climate justice, and development aid. The network’s statements reflect a consensus among various sectors in Philippine society against divisive constitutional changes proposed by the current administration.

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The Australia-Philippines Strategic Partnership, formalised by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Marcos Jr., aims to deepen ties through defence, economic, environmental, and other forms of cooperation. Filipino-Australians welcome this partnership, viewing it as an opportunity to promote the professionalisation of Philippine military forces and strengthen respect for human rights.

However, this partnership also poses challenges. The APHRN argues that true democratic reforms in the Philippines can only be achieved through meaningful engagement with non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil societies. This includes addressing ongoing human rights concerns, such as the arbitrary arrests and harassment of activists, economic vulnerabilities, and the promotion of gender justice.

As Australia and the Philippines navigate their strategic partnership, the emphasis on balanced engagement and support for democratic reforms remains crucial. The APHRN’s call to action underscores the importance of informed Australian and Filipino-Australian communities in advocating for a just, peaceful, and democratic Philippines. This partnership allows Australia to play a constructive role in the Philippines’ journey towards greater democracy and human rights protection, aligning with both nations’ shared values and interests in a resilient and prosperous region.

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