President Marcos vowed yesterday to act as a 'bridge' that would further link the Philippines with its strategic partner Australia during his two-day visit to Canberra, which he hopes will lead to 'more robust' ties between the two countries.

Marcos left for Canberra for a two-day 'guest of government' visit that will reciprocate Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's visit to the Philippines last year. Marcos is scheduled to come home today but will fly to Melbourne on Sunday to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia Special Summit.?'I am honored to bring with me in this visit the best of our motherland and our inherent desire for peace and prosperity. I intend to serve as a bridge that will further connect the two democratic maritime nations and promote our visions of amity, development, and cooperation,' the President said in his departure statement at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay.?'I hope to bring home with me a more robust, warmer and closer Philippine-Australian relations,' he added.

Marcos is scheduled to address the Australian parliament to discuss the Philippines' commitments in its partnership with Australia, the first Filipino leader to do so. His address is also expected to touch on his vision for the Philippines' future, defense and trade matters. ?'I will make sure to acknowledge the ever-growing relations on defense and security with one of our only two Status of Visiting Forces partners as highlighted last year by the success of Exercise Alon and the Maritime Cooperative Activity,' the Chief Executive said.?'I shall also highlight the huge potential in trade and investment that we should maximize in the coming years. After all, economic security is a vital component of national security.' ?Marcos said he is expecting the mutual understanding between Manila and Canberra to be enhanced since they share a common vision not just for their bilateral relations, but for the peace and security of the region.?'Our engagement in the parliament will also feature conversations with Australia's legislative leadership who are vital partners in ensuring a favorable and enabling policy to our relations to continue its upward trajectory,' he added.?According to Marcos, three agreements that would expand the Philippines' wide-ranging cooperation with Australia will be formalized and signed, but he did not elaborate.

'Collaboration in these additional fields is a clear indication that the strategic partnership which we have embarked upon provides greater energy and optimism for closer cooperation that is mutually beneficial to both Filipinos and Australians,' he said, promising to convey the Filipinos' camaraderie and goodwill to Australians during the visit.

Marcos, who undertook the visit upon the invitation of Governor General David Hurley, departed for Australia at about 8:30 a.m. Vice President Sara Duterte has been designated the caretaker of the government while Marcos is out of the country. Duterte, also the education secretary, was not present during the departure ceremony.

The plane carrying Marcos arrived in Canberra at past 4 p.m. Philippine time (past 7 p.m. in Canberra), the Presidential Communications Office said. In his Instagram account, Marcos posted a photo of himself and First Lady Liza Marcos arriving at The Lodge for dinner with Albanese and Australian financial services professional Jodie Haydon.

There are about 408,000 Filipinos and Australians with Filipino descent in Australia as of 2022, making them the fifth largest migrant community in the country, according to the PCO.

Tackle HR issues

Meanwhile, an official of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Australian lawmakers who attend President Marcos' address before joint parliament this week should take his human rights rhetoric with a 'grain of salt.'

Daniela Gavshon, Australia director of HRW, on Wednesday said Marcos' visit is an important opportunity for Australia's leaders to address cases of human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Even with the improved relations between Australia and the Philippines since Marcos assumed office in 2022, Gavshon said human rights violations in the country remain rampant.

'Drug-related killings implicating the police have continued under Marcos, if at a lower rate. The government refuses to cooperate with the International Criminal Court's investigation into the 'war on drugs,'' she said.

'Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of activists and human rights defenders persist. Government officials and the security forces continue the dangerous practice of 'red-tagging,' publicly branding leftist activists and politicians as members or supporters of the communist insurgency, putting them at higher risk of abuse,' she added.

Gavshon said Australia's government should be especially concerned with the rising harassment and violence against labor leaders and union organizers in the Philippines.

She cited the case of Jude Thaddeus Fernandez, who was killed by the police for allegedly fighting back while being served with a search warrant.

Copyright © 2022 PhilSTAR Daily, Inc Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (