Australia gives RP 28 boats, $4-million grant

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Australia has pledged to donate at least 28 boats valued at $4 million for use by the Philippine Army and to provide an annual grant amounting to A$4 million for training of officers and men of the Armed Forces.

Australian Assistant Secretary for International Police Division-Southeast Asia Ben Coleman said the Australian assistance served as a prelude to the conclusion of their joint military exercises under the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, which is being finalized by a technical working group.

“This is a very big boost to our capacity and capability building among our military officers and men,” said Defense Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessment Ma. Joji Aragon.

Aragon said the boats will be delivered before the end of the year. A training program will also be conducted to teach the soldiers how to operate the vessels.

The defense official said that the yearly education assistance will bankroll courses in masteral, doctorate and post-graduate courses that will be offered in Canberra, Perth and Darwin, all in Australia.

Citing a similar assistance the United States government has been providing the Armed Forces, Defense Undersecretary Antonio Santos said that the Australian government has now become the Philippine government’s partner in boosting the Armed Forces capability.

But he did not say whether or not the Australian government under the Sovfa will also conduct military exercises similar to what the US is doing through the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Coleman said that his country has been an ally for many decades as he recalled that the Australian Armed Forces were involved in the campaign to drive away the Japanese soldiers from the Philippines during the Second World War.

“We have a common interest in terms of peaceful and secure region. And in particular, we are dealing with the common threats from terrorists in the region,” Coleman said.

The defense officials said that even before the Sovfa, the two countries have already been engaging in mutual cooperation.

“As a matter of fact, there are many AFP officers who are undergoing training in Australia right now and Sovfa does not just involve the activities of Australians here in the Philippines but also equally the activities of Filipinos in Australia,” Defense Undersecretary for Legal and Special Concerns Ricardo Blancaflor said.

The officials said the proposed agreement will regulate the entry and exit of troops coming to the exercise.