Philippines-Australia strengthen bilateral cooperation without human rights

As part of his two-day state visit to Australia, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership between the two countries in light of increasing regional political tensions in the Indo-Pacific in a speech to the Federal Parliament in Canberra on February 29, 2024. Marcos Jr. underlined the importance of unimpeded passage and freedom of navigation in the region for maintaining regional peace. However, human rights were not mentioned.

President Marcos Jr. and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed three new bilateral agreements on maritime cooperation, cyber resilience and cooperation between competition commissions of the two countries. In September 2023, the Philippines and Australia had already agreed on a strategic partnership.

Marcos Jr’s visit and speech in the Parliament sparked criticism and concern within Australian civil society. At least four Australian Members of the Parliament joined the protests outside the Parliament House in Canberra. Senator Janet Rice was escorted out of the Parliament House for holding up a sign reading “Stop Human Rights Violations” during Marcos Jr’s speech. Some Marcos critics in the parliament applauded Rice, while others promptly tabled a censure order. Rice might also face a “persona non grata” declaration in the Philippines. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch called on the Australian members of the parliament to hold Marcos Jr. accountable and to send him clear messages about the importance of human rights and the rule of law.

After his trip to Australia, Marcos Jr. emphasized in an interview in early March 2024 that he had no authoritarian tendencies and that his government was committed to upholding democratic principles. At the same time, he justified the declaration of martial law by his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., which brought with it numerous serious human rights violations.

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China are also continuing. China has been trying to assert its territorial claims in the region for years by building artificial islands and increasing its military presence, among others. Another incident occurred on March 5, 2024, when the Chinese coast guard injured at least four Filipinos while firing water cannons. The US, together with EU countries, issued a statement to China underlining the importance of respecting international law.

Since taking office in mid-2022, Marcos Jr. has moved the Philippines closer to the USA and is striving to normalize diplomatic relations with the EU, which had suffered greatly under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte. To this end, Marcos Jr. travelled to Berlin on March 12, 2024, to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.


Photo © Daniel Morton, unsplash

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