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MAKATI CITY – Philippines and India held the inaugural Track 2 session of the Philippine-India Maritime Dialogue on Tuesday, which aims to strengthen the maritime cooperation between the two democratic nations.

Organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute, in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs – Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office, the Embassy of India, Manila, and the National Maritime Foundation of India, the dialogue was attended by Filipino and Indian maritime security, geopolitical, and economic experts and foreign diplomats.

During the dialogue, National Maritime Foundation of India Executive Director and Indian Navy Commodore Debesh Lahiri emphasized the need for like-minded countries like the Philippines and India to work together to ensure a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

“For India, the Indo-Pacific is a very strategic geography. It is very important. Therefore, it should remain free, open, and inclusive to all, regardless of the size of the country, regardless of the size of the nation, and regardless of the size of the economy. Everybody has to have an equal share in trading, peaceful commerce, freedom of navigational operation. It should all be according to the rules that are well established by the UNCLOS and several other instruments that are already internationally recognized,” Lahiri said.

“India’s policy is very clear. It is security and growth for all in the region. It does not follow a particular state. It is for all in the region and that is very important,” he added.

This echoed the statement Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made at the recently concluded East Asia Summit, where he said that, “the need of the hour is such that an Indo-Pacific – where international law, including UNCLOS, is equally applicable to all countries; where there is freedom of navigation and overflight; and where there is unimpeded lawful commerce for the benefit of everyone”.

Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran emphasized the same in his July 12 statement that “all countries have an obligation to respect international law, but bigger countries have a larger obligation to respect international law”.

During the dialogue, Stratbase ADR Institute President Dindo said that the initiatives of maritime cooperation between the Philippines and India continue to expand, as both acknowledge the importance of the maritime sector and its growing importance in the regional space.

“Efforts to strengthen the region are not limited to the areas of defense and security. They must expand to other areas of maritime cooperation, such as maritime economies and care for the marine environment with the involvement of non-state actors. With many maritime nations as member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the ASEAN, cooperation on these fronts is integral to the flourishing of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” he explained.

Similarly, Indian Coast Guard Commandant Ravindra Kumar Shrivastava identified key areas where the Philippines and India can collaborate. These include the blue economy, offshore mining, offshore renewable energy, maritime security and safety, sustainable management of marine resources, maritime connectivity, preservation of maritime biodiversity, and technical cooperation in marine science.

“The cooperation and collaboration among like-minded nations at regional and sub-regional levels would be the most suitable option to address maritime crises of a transnational nature, and by working out the mechanism of joint surveillance recognizance of international shipping lines, sea lines of communications, and the vast stretches of the explosive economic zones of our countries,” he said.

“The collaboration of both the enforcement and the police agencies of the Philippines as well as India will definitely ensure not only the protection to the deep-sea fishing vessels but also will monitor, control, and will be available for responding to any emergencies if our fishermen who are working on the sea, in the deeper areas, both the agencies should work in such a manner that they are available for providing help to the distressed fishing vessels,” Shrivastava explained.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Policy Planning and Coordination Patrick Chuasoto explained that the Track 2 Maritime Dialogue was a testament to the high level of interest between Philippines and India to work together for their mutual benefit.

“This latest push for an enhanced partnership comes at an opportune time as our two countries will celebrate the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations next year… We are encouraged by the fact that India, a major global player, the world’s largest democracy, and fifth largest economy, has chosen to play by the rules. Rather than subscribe to the outdated notion that might is right, a conscious decision must be made not to inflict the same wrongs committed by empires of old in this day and age,” he said.

Chuasoto said the dialogue emphasized the essential role of the Philippines and India in fostering future peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific through maritime cooperation.

“This partnership holds great potential, especially in light of evolving regional challenges. At the core of this renewed partnership lies the prospect of closer cooperation on maritime security. The Philippines and India share a deep understanding of the importance of a secure maritime environment for regional stability. We see India as kindred, a natural partner in our efforts to strengthen the rules-based international order under persistent threats to undermine it,” he added.

Photo 2- Afternoon Panel: From left to right: Ms. Apila Sangtam (Associate Fellow – Member, National Maritime Foundation of India), Captain Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri (Ret.), Indian Navy (Senior Fellow – Member, National Maritime Foundation of India), Commandant Ravindra Kumar Shrivastava, Indian Coast Guard (Research Fellow – Member, National Maritime Foundation of India), Prof. Dindo Manhit (President, Stratbase ADR Institute), Ambassador Ramon Bagatsing Jr. (Former Ambassador of the Philippines to India and Nepal ), Commodore Debesh Lahiri, Indian Navy (Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation of India), Dr. Ronald Mendoza (Former Dean, Ateneo School of Government; Regional Director, Southeast Asia, IDinsight); Dr. Joefe B. Santarita (Former Dean and Professor Asian Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman), Ms. Mary Joyce Ilas (Communications and Advocacy Lead, Stratbase ADR Institute ), and Ms. Maria Elena Cristina D. Maningat, (Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs).