Australia on Thursday disclosed a package of new maritime cooperation initiatives for the Philippines, including the turnover of drone equipment and other technology to strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness, as Canberra sees Manila as a “vital security partner” in maintaining a “peaceful, stable and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.

This came after Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong held a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on how to elevate both countries’ partnership from “comprehensive” to “strategic.”

“We discussed today ways in which we will enhance our cooperation (and) this includes Australia providing drone equipment, training and other technology to strengthen your Coast Guard in maritime domain awareness and protection capabilities,” she said in a press conference.

Wong also disclosed that Australia would provide AU$89.9 million in official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippines to support economic, education, and Mindanao peace programs.

Mr. Marcos, for his part, said an enhanced partnership is extremely important for nations in the Asia Pacific with the current geopolitical situation.

“Now we have a situation where partnerships have become extremely important and it might be the key to maintaining the peace not only in the Asia Pacific but the Indo-Pacific region,” the President said during Wong’s courtesy call at the Palace.

Mr. Marcos said he hopes that Wong’s visit will add to those efforts “when we are continuing to try and strengthen all our partnerships in terms of trade, in terms of people-to-people relationship, and in security and defense.”

Manalo, for his part, said it is possible for Mr. Marcos, Jr. to have a bilateral visit to Australia on “a mutually agreed date” on or before March next year.

March 2024 will mark the 50th anniversary of the dialogue relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia.

“We expect that high-level engagements will continue as the Philippines and Australia work harder to strengthen our cooperation in quite a number of practical areas of mutual interest…A bilateral visit is also possible at a mutually agreed date,” Manalo said.

Wong said the ODA she announced is on top of the existing AU$10.95 million commitment by Australia to support the Philippines in establishing a “new immunization information system and a strengthened laboratory network and surveillance system” to address the disruptions to routine immunization during the pandemic.

Manalo and Wong also agreed to enhance trade and investment cooperation. They also discussed how to further strengthen the two countries’ people-to-people connections through the Work and Holiday Visa Arrangement being negotiated.

The two would meet again to convene the 6th Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in Australia later this year.

Wong is the fourth top Australian government official to visit Manila in 2023, after Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell, and Special Envoy for Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore.