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Caught between the rising clout of China and the proximity of Indonesia, the Philippines often gets overlooked.
But the island nation is strategically important for Australia, said Dr Imelda Deinla, who heads the Philippines Project at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. The Philippines:
- lies in the middle of vital shipping lanes between Australia and China, Japan and Korea, that is essential for trade and freedom of navigation for Australia.
- is divided between its ties to China and those of US-led nations including Australia. The Philippines also has competing claims with China over a maritime region in the South China Sea that includes islands where China is building a military base.
- was home to the 2017 Marawi siege that pitted jihadist groups that pledged allegiance to ISIS against the Philippines armed forces. The conflict can be a trigger to encourage further radicalization in Australia.
“The Philippines tends to be underreported,” Deinla said. “The reality is Filipino immigrants are the fifth-largest group of migrants in Australia.”
The Philippines Project was launched to stimulate research collaboration and engagement among academics and policymakers from both Australia and the Philippines. The three-year project hosts major conferences, including the Philippines Update Conference in May 2018 on the policy and legal challenges surrounding Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and featured Secretary Benjamin Diokno, the minister for the Department of Budget and Management.
Deinla has spent her life either studying or living in the Philippines, where she holds political science and law degrees and spent many years working as a lawyer in the public, private and non-government sectors. Her academic research focuses on the relationship between politics and law, and the development of the rule of law in Southeast Asia and ASEAN.
She worked on building human-rights capacities throughout Asia and the Pacific for the Diplomacy Training Program based at the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, where she organised more than ten regional training programs including in East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
More recently, Deinla led a research project that examined formal and informal pathways to justice in post-conflict Mindanao, the Philippine island that is home to a large number of Muslim and indigenous peoples. Her project included mapping the “justice web” of state courts, Shari’a courts, and village- and clan-based forms of dispute resolution; and how these forms of justice and practices addressed violence against women and promoted gender equality.
“The Philippines has a complex history,” she said. “The reality is that they have the formalistic legal system but have an informal system used in regional and local areas. There hasn’t been much of an effort to coordinate all these different processes.”
The Philippines Project also hosts a forum series on various economic, political and legal issues, often attended by Australian government officials. The project’s researchers also provide regular policy briefings to officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Additionally, it promotes research on the Philippines through fellowships, research and scholarship programs.
Despite its strategic importance, academic study of the Philippines remains limited, especially compared to other Asian nations, Deinla said. While CAP can boast housing one of the largest number of Australian academics focusing on the Philippines, a recent survey revealed that more scholars at the College specialise in smaller nations like Myanmar, she said.
And that was before the 2016 election of Duterte, the maverick president who has carried out a controversial war on drug suspects and has attacked media that are critical of him.
“We want to make the Philippines Project a safe venue for dialogue and vigorous discussion on the Philippines. And we are using it also as a portal of informed analysis and discourse,” Deinla said.”
Research funded by: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Related website: Philippines Project
Related research: Dr Imelda Deinla
For more information on related research projects and articles, visit the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific website.