Republic of the Philippines country brief
Recent political developments in the Philippines
Elections were held in the Philippines on 10 May 2010 to elect the President; Vice-President; 12 senators; all 287 members of the House of Representatives; and provincial, city and municipal elected officials. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and Jejomar C. Binay were sworn into office on 30 June 2010 as President and Vice President respectively. President Aquino is constitutionally limited to a single six-year term as President. The Philippines held mid-term elections on 13 May 2013 for a range of elected offices, including the election of 12 of the 24 Senate seats. The Aquino Administration continues to implement a major reform agenda which – amongst other priorities - focusses on eliminating corruption and alleviating poverty.
Conflict in the Southern Philippines
The Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a framework peace agreement in October 2012. The framework peace agreement provides for a transitional process from the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to a new autonomous entity, to be called the Bangsamoro (‘the Moro land’ in Filipino). President Aquino has appointed a 15-member Transition Commission, comprised of both Government and MILF representatives, to draft a basic law for the new entity.
The Australian Government continues to advise Australians not to travel to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and Sulu Archipelago, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, violent crime and violent clashes between armed groups.
Detailed travel advice for the Philippines, including the southern Philippines.
The Aquino Administration has publicly committed to a program of economic reform and, if implemented, this has the potential to open up areas for further economic cooperation in both trade and investment.
The Government of the Philippines has predicted a growth of six to seven per cent in 2013. Philippine GDP has grown on the back of robust domestic consumption, an improvement in exports, acceleration in private investment, and government spending. The Philippine economy rebounded from the global financial crisis in 2010 and grew by 7.6 per cent, before growth almost halved to 3.9 per cent in 2011. The economy picked up again with growth of 6.6 per cent in 2012. A sustained run of strong economic growth will be necessary for progress to be made in poverty alleviation.
The macro-economic fundamentals of the Philippine economy remain sound. Inflation and interest rates are low and the currency is stable. Overseas Filipinos' remittance income, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the Philippine economy, continues to support domestic consumption. Business Process Outsourcing, an increasingly important driver of the economy, has grown tremendously in recent years.
Australia and the Philippines have a long history of bilateral cooperation. Diplomatic relations were established when Australia opened a Consulate-General in Manila on 22 May 1946. An Australian Ambassador to the Philippines was appointed in 1957. The Philippines opened an Embassy in Canberra in 1962.
Australia and the Philippines cooperate closely in a broad range of areas, including defence, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and development. Australia has the following regular bilateral meetings with the Philippines: a Foreign and Trade Ministers’ meeting (the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting, or ‘PAMM’) and associated PAMM business dialogue and senior officials’ meeting; counter-terrorism consultations; annual joint defence cooperation consultations; a joint working group on mining; an agriculture forum; a climate change dialogue; and a strategic dialogue. Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III visited Australia from 24-26 October 2012, meeting then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Governor-General in Canberra, and the NSW Premier in Sydney. They held wide-ranging discussions, issued a joint statement, witnessed the signing of a new Air Services Agreement between Australia and the Philippines, which will help lay the groundwork for increased trade and people to people links, and announced a development program which will contribute to building peace and stability in Mindanao by improving access to education.
The Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, visited the Philippines from 11-14 April 2012. She met members of the Government of the Philippines, including President Aquino, with whom she discussed new opportunities for bilateral cooperation and our growing development assistance program. She also visited poverty alleviation and disaster risk management projects in Taguig City, Manila, which are supported through Australia's aid program.
The then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, had fruitful discussions with the Philippine President, Benigno Aquino III, and the Philippine Foreign Secretary, Albert del Rosario, during his 20-21 October 2011 visit to the Philippines.
On 16 June 2011, then-Foreign Minister Rudd and then-Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson, hosted the third Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in Canberra with their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Secretary of Trade and Industry, Gregory Domingo. They issued a Joint Ministerial Statement covering counter-terrorism, defence and security, the peace process in southern Philippines, development assistance, trade and investment, and regional and multilateral engagement.
The two countries share common perspectives on many regional, economic and security issues. Australia and the Philippines share a common interest in cooperating in regional affairs through fora such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum. Both Australia and the Philippines are active members of the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries. The two countries have also signaled their common interest in combating transnational challenges such as climate change.
The Philippines is buoyed by economic growth, yet more than 42 million Filipinos survive on less than $2 a day. Helping the Philippines to tackle poverty will contribute to prosperity for one of Australia’s nearest neighbour, and build greater security for the Asia region.
Australia can make a difference. By targeting and aligning aid programs with the development goals of the Philippine Government and focusing on poverty reduction, Australian aid is making a difference in the lives of Filipinos living in poverty.
Australia is one of the largest grant aid donors to the Philippines, with estimated official development assistance in 2013-14 of $141 million. The current Australia-Philippines Country Strategy (2012-2017) aligns with the key reform agenda of the Aquino Administration to tackle poor governance and reduce poverty. Australia's development assistance in the Philippines is focused on education, local government service delivery, disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, peace building and good governance. Underpinning the program strategy is the Australia – Philippines Development Cooperation Statement of Commitment 2012 – 17, signed by both Governments during high level consultations in March 2012. It reflects agreed approaches to development priorities and affirms that Australia and the Philippines will aim to achieve real results through a more focused, consolidated aid program. Decades of conflict have resulted in the development of Mindanao, in southern Philippines, slipping behind. Poverty, a lack of basic education and weak governance are ongoing problems in conflict-affected areas. More than half of Australian aid is invested in Mindanao, including those areas affected by conflict. Australia’s aid programs are introducing education in remote communities, providing new opportunities for youth involved with armed groups and helping local governments to be more accountable to citizens.
The Philippines is the third most vulnerable country to natural disasters and the sixth most vulnerable to climate change. When earthquakes, volcanoes and severe typhoons occur, the poor are worst affected. Australia is one of the first countries to respond when typhoons affect millions of Filipino people. In December 2012 Australia contributed A$7.3 million of assistance in response to Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) to support emergency relief and recovery activities. Australia is also partnering with the Philippine Government in long term programs to ensure communities are better prepared for natural disasters.
Defence and security cooperation
Australia's annual bilateral defence cooperation program includes high-level policy talks, training of Philippine defence personnel in Australia, and visits by senior officials. The defence relationship is focused on counter terrorism, maritime security and assistance to the Philippines Defence Reform Program.
Australia and the Philippines signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) in 2007. The SOVFA entered into force in September 2012. Australia and the Philippines signed a bilateral MOU on Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism and an MOU on Combating Transnational Crime in 2003. Australia's counter-terrorism cooperation with the Philippines includes practical assistance in policing, immigration, and port and airport security.
Business and trade
Total two-way trade was valued at $3.4 billion in 2012. Merchandise trade comprised the bulk of this trade at $2.3 billion, but services are an increasingly important component of our bilateral trade. Australian services exports to the Philippines in 2012 totalled $499 million, while Australian imports of Philippine services totalled $642 million. This trade in services was dominated by education-related travel, personal travel and business travel, reflecting our strong people-to-people links.
In 2012, Australia’s investment in the Philippines was valued at $7.1 billion and the Philippines invested $911 million in Australia. Several Australian mining companies have interests in the Philippines, mostly at the exploration and development stage, making Australia a major foreign investor. The Australia-Philippines Business Council (APBC), established in 1975, provides a focal point for networking between Australian and Philippine business communities. The APBC's counterpart organisation in the Philippines is the Philippines-Australia Business Council.
Australia and the Philippines are both parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) – the most comprehensive trade agreement that ASEAN has negotiated. It delivers significant commercial benefits, while providing a basis for further regional economic integration, including the negotiations towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Australia and the Philippines are both among the 16 RCEP participating countries (ASEAN plus its FTA Partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand).
Australia and the Philippines have growing people-to-people links through trade, investment, cultural exchange, tourism and migration. Significant numbers of Filipinos have immigrated to Australia since the 1960s and Filipinos remain one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in Australia. .At the 2011 Census, 225,000 Australians identified as having Filipino ancestry, up from 129,000 in 2001. The Australian Parliament has an Australia-Philippines Parliamentary Group, whose members have participated in exchange visits to study the history, culture and politics of the Philippines.
Updated September 2013