... Australia is another security partner of the Philippines that extended immediate and urgent assistance to the AFP during the battle of Marawi. Australia sent two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion aircrafts to provide surveillance and reconnaissance support to the AFP’s combat operation against Muslim militants who took control of the city. Signal and photographic intelligence provided by the American and Australian reconnaissance planes enabled the AFP to deploy its FA-50s fighter planes and OV-10 ground attack planes to launch surgical airstrikes on the ISIS’ positions in the city. During the fighting, Australia has also considered sending Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel to the Philippines to advise and assist the AFP in its counter-terrorism campaign against the Islamic militants—something that the ADF has been doing in Iraq. In the aftermath of the battle, Australia has been looking at further collaboration and capacity-building work with the Philippines and other regional partners on fostering cooperation among regional coast guards to tighten border control in the Sulu Sea to limit the movement of money, technology, and fighters to extremist groups in the Southern Philippines.

This commentary examines the Philippines’ efforts to connect the separate US bilateral alliances in the Indo-Pacific region as it forges a security partnership with Australia. It explores this main question: how does the Philippines establish and foster a security partnership with Australia? It also raises the following corollary questions: what are the Philippines’ motives in pursuing security partnerships with Australia and other US allies? What are the limits of the Philippine-Australia security partnership?

With the heightened importance of maritime issues in the region coupled with strategic competition between the powers of the Indo-Pacific, the maritime domain has turned into a platform for increased inter-state dynamics. It is in this domain of great uncertainty that maritime services operate, cooperate, and compete.

Despite the extensive counter-terrorism efforts invested by states in the region, terrorism continues to be a key national security threat among states in the Indo-Pacific region. During the earlier part of the century, terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah were able to develop complex networks and systematically execute attacks across multiple states across the Indo-Pacific. While the operational capabilities of these organizations are now degraded, a resurgence of violent extremism in the region inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) calls for a re-evaluated strategy that recognizes the distinctive nature and tactics of ISIL. Cooperation between states is therefore central to understanding the threat and developing a strategy to mitigate militant extremism in the region.

The theme of this conference, Connecting the Spokes, implies a hub. In general terms, both the Philippines and Australia tend to view the US, perhaps also China, as hubs around whose interests and values we in this region revolve – or in multilateral terms, of course ASEAN, although that leaves us in Australia at one step removed. But if we’re talking bilaterally, the hub around which our relationship’s spokes revolve comprises trade, investment and economic relations.

In Australian dollar terms, merchandise trade between the countries fell 15% to $2.7 billion in 2018. That makes the Philippines merely Australia’s 28th largest merchandise trading partner. Trade in services – chiefly tourism and students – has the Philippines in 21st place. Australia, meanwhile, is the Philippines’ 22nd target for exports and the 13th source of imports. Mutual investment is also thin. Australia has invested about $9.6 billion in the Philippines, but only about a tenth of that are directly in operations and assets, while the rest are in shares.