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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 921

Senator KILGARIFF(6.45) —The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence resolved to inquire into the situation in the Philippines in late 1985. Of course, only six months into its inquiry came the revolution in the Philippines which saw the demise of Marcos and the election of President Aquino. The timing of the inquiry was certainly fortu- itous. It has produced a useful and informative report which gives a valuable insight into the post-Marcos Philippines and the immediate issues confronting the Aquino Government. It is wide-ranging report. It examines the current political and economic situation in the Philippines, the state of Philippine-Australian relations, and the importance of the Philippines to regional stability and Australian interests.

It is on the last of those three broad areas that I wish to make some comment tonight. However, before I address that specific issue I would like to make clear my support for the recommendations that the Committee has made, particularly on Australian aid to the Philippines. I am very pleased to see that the Committee has recommended:

The Australian Government continue to recognise the importance of the Philippines in regional affairs and seek to policies designed to foster political stability and economic recovery in the Philippines.

Further recommendations include the recommencement of the Samar aid project, once security conditions allow, and the possible extension of that project. I fully support that recommendation. The Committee has also made several other recommendations supporting additional assistance. I would certainly support such moves. I believe that it is in Australia's interests, certainly in humanitarian terms, to take more interest in the Philippines and to give it more aid. I have been to the Philippines recently. I visited the islands up near Cebu. It was absolutely appalling to see the conditions of the people in that area. The people are suffering from malnutrition. There is an incredible amount of tuberculosis and very little, if any, aid is going to that area. There may be another thousand places in the Philippines that are in similar circumstances. The point I make is that while we believe that certain things should be done about our problems in the Australian community we have a responsibility-firstly, because the Philippines is our neighbour and, secondly, because it is very long suffering nation-to increase our aid. I was pleased to see, while I was in the Philippines, that there were indications that the Australian Government, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), was bringing about further aid. If that is the case, I commend the Minister for it.

I turn to the particular aspects of the report relating to the importance of the Philippines to regional security. There are a number of matters which warrant Australia's attention and concern. As the Committee notes, the Philippines occupies a key location in South East Asia and East Asia. The report says:

. . . prolonged instability in the Philippines, or the emergence there of a regime hostile to Australian and Western interests, would have serious consequences for our strategic environment, especially if this led to opportunities for intervention by or enhanced influence for the Soviet Union or its allies.

Of course, the threat to the stability of the Philippines, and the success of the Aquino Government, comes from the communist insurgents of the New People's Army-the NPA-whose number, according to reports, had reached a staggering 20,000 by 1985. There are other reports that say that the number has reached about 30,000. The troops are very well equipped and well trained. As can be seen by day to day reports emanating from the Philippines, the NPA continues in various parts of the Philippines to ambush the Filipino Government's troops and other people who are sympathetic to the Government. The attempt by President Aquino to negotiate a ceasefire with the NPA failed and, again, we are reading in our newspapers almost daily of the ambush and murder of Philippine Army personnel by communist guerrillas. The dilemma for President Aquino in treading her delicate path between conciliation and negotiation with the rebels on the one hand and giving the military adequate room to defend itself and the Philippines on the other is a difficult one.

Mrs Aquino also faces a problem of the supporters Marcos left behind. Whilst Mr Marcos may be in exile in Hawaii, there are still plenty of wealthy war lords left in the Philippines, some of whom maintain small personal armies. They pose two potential threats to the stability of the Aquino regime. The first is the threat of support for an attempted return to the Philippines by Ferdinand Marcos. Alternatively, they could simply back one of their own number or a person such as Enrile against President Aquino. The matter is extremely delicate to say the least. Leaving aside direct political threats, Mrs Aquino has also to deal with the disastrous state of the Philippines economy which, it has been shown, was bled dry by Marcos and his cronies in the last years of the Marcos regime. Literally billions of dollars were hijacked out of Government coffers by the Marcos family and Marcos's friends. I am not referring to millions of dollars but to billions of dollars. Billions of dollars of this money is invested around the world and there is now a commission investigating the situation to see what funds can be brought back into the Philippines.

Senator Walsh —They are bigger crooks than the Queensland National Party.

Senator KILGARIFF —I note what the Minister has said but there is a big difference in what Marcos did in the Philippines. I find it incredible that he is still living in a protected state in Hawaii. The Committee report notes:

The Aquino Government faces a formidable array of problems in dealing with the economic legacy of the Marcos years. The most pressing needs are to improve economic policy formulation and management to revive business and investor confidence, to reschedule foreign debt and to formulate an appropriate budgetary strategy.

This is essential if Mrs Aquino is to be able to offer the Filipino people hope of an improvement in their living conditions. For millions of Filipinos poverty, hunger, malnutrition, disease, unemployment and homelessness are a way of life. It is a very pitiful one. I was recently in the Philippines during the failed coup attempt by the so-called Marcos loyalists. I was left in no doubt that Mrs Aquino faces a monumental task. I certainly wish the people of the Philippines well in their attempts to rebuild their country and endorse the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence that Australia assist in fostering political stability and economic recovery in the Philippines.

Question resolved in the affirmative.