CANBERRA, Australia (UPDATE) – Australia congratulated the Philippines on the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
During the bilateral meeting of President Benigno Aquino III and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, developments in the West Philippine Sea were also discussed.
Gillard congratulated Aquino on the signing of the framework agreement.
During the expanded bilateral meeting, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr in particular said that the agreement can be used as a role model in other peace processes.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Secretary Ricky Carandang said that Australia is happy that the Philippines "has reached a major step" towards comprehensive and lasting peace.
Aquino responded by saying that it needs a lot of hard work. Aquino said he wants to see the process of creating the Bangsamoro completed by 2016.
Philippine Ambassador to Australia Belen Anota said Australia has poured in a lot of aid to Mindanao because it wants the peace process to succeed.
West Philippine Sea
Developments in the West Philippine Sea were discussed in all levels of President Aquino's meetings Wednesday.
Anota said the Philippines and Australia share a common position on how to resolve the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
She said that while Australia has made it clear that it will not take sides in the dispute, and it supports the idea of freedom of navigation in the area—for parties not to use force or threat of force and that the solution must be rules-based, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
She said Australia supports the early conclusion of the crafting of a binding code of conduct in the region.
"[The] Australians' positions on the West Philippine Sea are very clear and we understand them. And Australia also fully understands the Philippine position on the West Philippine Sea. So there is, I would say, harmony and understanding. And, in particular one, that Australia will not take sides in territorial issues; second, Australia supports the idea of freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea; not to use force or threat of force to solve the problem; and that the solution must be rules-based including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; and both sides, of course, want to see an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct. So that summarizes our views on the West Philippine Sea," Anota said.
On the Code of Conduct, Aquino responded by saying that it will not be that easy and it may take time.
Anota said there was no specific discussion on China during the bilateral meeting.
Visiting Forces Agreement
Australia also thanked the Philippines for the Senate ratification of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA).
Anota said a meeting is being held in the Philippines to discuss how to implement the SOVFA.
Carandang said one of those being eyed under the agreement is the enhancement of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
"One of the first things we might look into is enhancing our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. That's something that has been very close to the President's concerns. You know that when we go to ASEAN, when we talk to other countries in the region, the President always brings up humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. That is one of the things that we're thinking of moving forward under the SOVFA," Carandang said.
Carandang said mining companies expressed interest in investing in the Philippines but intend to see all laws and policies in place.
"We haven't actually quantified yet what kind of investments we expect to get from mining right now. What we told them and what they understand is that we have not put in place the rules. Nakita niyo naman 'yung EO 79 that provided a lot of clarity for mining investors. Then we came out with the implementing rules and regulations," Carandang said.
"So ang nakikita nila little by little we are putting in place the very clear rules under which mining will be encouraged in the Philippines. So they all also know that there's pending legislation. As we've announced before, we want to file a bill with Congress that would allow the state, the Philippine state, to have a greater share of the revenues from mining."
Air services agreement
Aquino and Gillard witnessed the signing of an air services agreement between the two countries that will ensure both sides to have access in each other's market at a time when the country wants to invite more tourists to visit.
Carandang said aviation authorities from both sides to will work on the details.
"We're talking about enhancing visitors, visitor programs, and people-to-people exchange in Australia. We need to make sure that updated frameworks are in place for us to continue to have access to each other's markets. So that's what the Air Services Agreement was about," Carandang said.