After the 69th anniversary of the historic Lingayen Gulf Landing in January 9 at the Veterans Memorial Park in Lingayen, Pangasinan came to an end media colleague scampered from their locations and started “ambushed interviews” their prey like governor, mayors and even military and police officials who have ran-off with news worthy events the day before.
|Author poses a strike with Australian Ambassador|
Bill Tweddell extreme right) after his interview.
I hesitated to rush at the guy sporting a long sleeve light brown barong dress since: First, I left most of my English proficiency skills at our house in Dagupan City; Second I was not certain if he was His Excellency exchanging pleasantries with two huge white men (one in a Navy uniform while the other was in a blue barong but both sport an array of medals located on their left breast).
“Sir, are you the ambassador of Australia?” I asked the guy with a long sleeve barong after I mustered all my strength to draw sword with the envoy in Her Majesty the Queen and Shakespeare’s language.
“Yes,” he retorted.
“I am a political columnist of this paper; I got some queries with you Your Excellency?”
I asked him his take on the saber rattling of Mainland China in the South China (West Philippine Seas among Filipinos) and East Asia Sea where Japan and China have a tensed claim on Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Tweddell, who presented his credential to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in January 2012, commented:
“I’m not really here today to comment on that issue. The Australian position is always in accordance with international laws. We don’t have stake on this. What we really want is peacekeeping in accordance with international law. We don’t take sides on the conflict”.
“If the U.S has “donated” two frigates and Japan pledged 10 coast guard patrol ships worth almost U.S$ 100 million, as an ally what’s your country share to the poorly equipped Philippine military vis-à-vis the threat of China in the Spratly’s group of islands, I posed.
“There’s nothing on the moment. There was six years ago the agreement of a water craft.
Traditionally, it is not on Australian policy to get involve in the equipment side of the things. But what we agreed is a lot of joint exercises and we are doing a lot of trainings in Australia and here many years ago. We have a vibrant relationship”.
In September 2010 as part of the agreement with the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with the Philippines, Australia donated 21 units of airboats and trailer trucks worth A $ 7.8 million for the Armed Forces of the Philippines on its fight against the Muslim terror group Abu Sayaff. Most of the airboats have reportedly been deployed in Liguasan Marsh in Mindanao.
I asked the ambassador about his comment on the United States military tactical pivot from Europe and the Middle East to contain the brewing unrest in Asia Pacific.
“Does Australia host bases for the U.S military?”
“Well, we do have joint facilities in Australia. We don’t have anything we don’t have (U.S) bases. That’s an important distinction to make,” Tweddell, former ambassador to Vietnam and Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, told me.
“There are U.S forces like the Marines in your country? “I posed.
“Yes, we do and we welcome them. That’s all we take the full stability in our region. Back in November 2011, immediately before I came here in December 2011 president (Barrack) Obama visited Canberra and Darwin as we jointly announced there the new arrangement of rotations of troops and aircrafts from the U.S to Northern Australia. The next manifestation I think there may be examples to be look at (unintelligible). We do welcome the peace and stability in our continuing relationship before I arrived here”.
Twedell explained to me that in 2005 the Philippines and Australia have signed the Visiting Forces Agreement.
He said that prior to that treaty the Philippines has long military “ties” with capital Canberra since the time the Japanese suicide bomber-pilots (we called Kamikazi) sank HMAS Australia in Leyte that killed 44 of her sailors. He cited that Governor Espino is an alumnus of Australia Defense College when he was with the police. Tweddell said the biggest breakthrough in the Philippines relationship with his country was the signing on the proverbial dotted line the Visiting Forces of Agreement (VFA) between both countries.
VFA is where a foreign military operates in a host country like the Philippines under the legal framework of a regular, though small-scale military presence. Australia is the second country next to the United States to have VFA with the Philippines that allowed them to conduct higher end training or joint exercises with the Philippine armed forces.
During the recent Australia Day, Tweddell said that beyond the A$40 million (P1.6 billion) in humanitarian aid and the mobilization of civilian and Australian Defense Force personnel and transport assets for Yolanda, the A$2.1 million (P84 million) assistance for the recovery of earthquake-devastated Bohol, and the A$838,000 (P33.5 million) assistance for those affected by the Zamboanga conflict (all in 2013), Australia is also supporting longer-term measures to help the Philippines realize its vast potential.
(Mortz C. Ortigoza is a political columnist in the Philippines. He used to teach political science and Asian governments in universities in Manila and in Dagupan City. You can send your comment or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)