Manila proposes defence dialogue with Singapore

MANILA -The Philippines has proposed a ''defence dialogue'' and closer security cooperation with Singapore to maintain stability in South-east Asia.

In a joint press conference with his Singapore counterpart Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino announced that Manila has proposed holding a defence dialogue.

''I believe that strengthening defence and security cooperation between the Philippines and Singapore is key to maintaining regional stability,'' he said.

Mr Aquino did not offer details on the proposed dialogue, but said he discussed with Dr Tan ''our countries' defence and security cooperation, which includes high-level training, educational and intelligence exchanges''.

Dr Tan, in turn, said he raised with Mr Aquino developments in ASEAN. He said that as founding members of ASEAN, ''Singapore and the Philippines share a common vision of building a strong, united and stable ASEAN community''.

''And we will continue to work closely to promote the common interest of our region,'' he added.

At a state luncheon hosted in his honour, Dr Tan said the ''strategic imperatives'' for ASEAN ''remain unchanged''.

''In fact, these imperatives have grown more compelling in the face of new challenges confronting our region,'' he said.

''This makes the task of achieving an ASEAN community in 2015 all the more urgent, as Singapore looks forward to working closely with the Philippines to advance our common regional interest.''

In a media briefing later in the afternoon, Mr Aquino's Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the ''defence dialogue'' may include a review of the Philippines' defence relations with Singapore.

The Philippines and Singapore entered into a military training agreement - known as the Anoa- Singa bilateral exercises - in 1994.

The pact allowed battalionsize, armoured units from Singapore to train in two military camps in the Philippines, and Singaporeans to enrol as cadets in the Philippine Military Academy.

The exercises were suspended in 1996 when some lawmakers in Manila pointed out that parts of the Anoa-Singa pact would need ratification by the Senate because it involved foreign troops on Philippine soil.

In 2007, Singapore submitted a draft ''visiting forces agreement'' to the Philippines, but progress in crafting that Bill had been slow.

Interest in the Philippines for a defence pact with Singapore was revived in 2012, as Manila concluded a ''status of visiting forces agreement'' with Australia in September that year.

Since then, however, there has been little progress on an agreement that will allow Singapore to hold military drills in the Philippines.

Other than defence, Dr Tan and Mr Aquino also talked about reviving the Philippines-Singapore Action Plan (PSAP) to expand bilateral cooperation between their countries.

Signed in 1998, the PSAP provides a broad framework on cooperation that covers trade, investments, information technology, culture and ''people-to-people'' exchanges.

Among the specific projects listed under the plan were the development of industrial parks and upgrading of port facilities in the Philippines, and development of capital markets both in Singapore and the Philippines.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 4 in The Straits Times.

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