India-Philippines have had cordial relations since 1949, but the full potential of the relationship between the two countries is only gradually being realized. Recently, India and the Philippines during the 5th meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) decided to expand their defence partnership. Read here to know more about the bilateral ties.
India and the Philippines formally established diplomatic relations on 26 November 1949, shortly after both countries gained independence (the Philippines in 1946 and India in 1947).
Relations have been friendly with shared values and commonalities, such as vibrant democratic polity, pluralistic society, rule of law, an independent judiciary and free press, and the widespread use of the English language.
However, it would be fair to say that despite shared values and complementarities, the full potential of the relationship between the two countries is only gradually being realized.
Culturally, while many of the countries in the region enjoyed civilizational links with India, in the case of the Philippines, this is yet to be fully explored and documented systematically.
However, with numerous words with Sanskrit roots in Tagalog, the local language is an established connection.
- Objects such as the Laguna Copper Plate inscription, the oldest artifact discovered in the Philippines written in Kavi derived from Pallava script; the golden statue of Agusan Tara; and the localized version of the Indian epic Ramayana (Maharadia Lawana) testify to the historical links between the two countries.
When India launched the Look East Policy and intensified partnership with ASEAN in 1992, this also resulted in stronger relations with countries in the region including the Philippines, both bilaterally and in the regional context.
With the Act East Policy initiated in 2014, the relationship with the Philippines has diversified further into political security; trade, industry, and people-to-people realms.
Coupled with the current development trajectory in the Philippines, the stage appears to be set for further intensification in bilateral relations, covering a broad canvas of consultations and cooperation on matters related to foreign policy, security, defense, trade, finance, tourism, health, agriculture, people-to-people relations, and culture.
India has reiterated the critical role that the Philippines plays in India’s Act East Policy and its Indo-Pacific Vision and expressed the desire to further expand bilateral relations.
The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines participated in the Raisina Dialogue 2022 during the visit.
The annual ASEAN/EAS Summits have provided an excellent platform for regular meetings between leaders from both countries.
India-Philippines held the 5th meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in 2023 which is the umbrella bilateral mechanism.
The Philippines has been supportive of a greater role for India in the UN Security Council.
- The Philippines expressed support for the G-4 initiative for Security Council Reform.
Philippines supported India in the recent election to IAEA, INTERPOL, IMO, CLCS, and ITU.
India-Philippines: Trade and Commerce
The economic relations have been gradually improving over the years, though there has been a decline in the volume of bilateral trade since 2017-18, however, it has started growing back steadily.
The Philippines accounts for around 20% of total Indian pharma exports to the ASEAN region.
- The major items of export from India to the Philippines include engineering goods; automobiles part and accessories, transmission apparatus, electric transformers, petroleum products, semi-finished products of iron and steel; drugs and pharmaceuticals, organic and inorganic chemicals; electronic goods; plastic and linoleum: rice; bovine meat, oil seeds; tobacco; groundnuts and others.
- The major items of import from the Philippines include Electrical machinery; semi-conductors; ores, slag, and ashes; copper, lead; plastics; pearls and precious stones; residue and waste from the food industry; animal fodder and others.
Financial Technology (Fintech) is one of the focused sectors identified by the leaders of both countries. India and the Philippines are working on finalizing MoU on Cooperation in the Fintech to expand cooperation.
India is working on sharing its expertise and experience with the Philippines in the agricultural field in line with the Philippines government’s focus on transforming the agricultural sector for enhancing food security at affordable prices.
The Philippines recognizes India as a global leader in terms of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. The Philippines was the first ASEAN Member State to grant Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
- An MOU on cooperation in Traditional Medicine between the Philippines Institute of Traditional Medicine and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) and the National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur was signed on 20 April 2022.
- Both countries are working on finalizing an MOU in the field of Medical Product Regulation between CDSCO, GoI, and FDA in, the Philippines.
Also read: India-Pacific Islands Relations
India-Philippines Defence relations
India and the Philippines resolved to deepen their defence cooperation during the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation’s (5th) meeting.
- Defence has emerged as a key pillar of the India-Philippines partnership amid territorial claims made by China in the South China Sea.
- India has requested that all parties observe the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea and adhere to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 decision in the South China Sea (SCS).
- China’s broad assertions in its conflict with the Southeast Asian nations over SCS seas were rejected by the verdict.
The mainstay of bilateral defense cooperation continues to remain capacity building with training exchanges and visits of delegations and units of the Indian Navy (including aircraft) and Coast Guard.
However, defence ties were significantly enhanced with the signing in January 2022 of a contract to supply the BrahMos missile system.
Read here: The South China Sea
Other areas of cooperation
- Tourism: Both countries have discussions on expanding tourism flows, including direct air connectivity, links between travel bodies, ease of visa access for Indian nationals, and synergies in promotional events.
- Science and Technology: Bilateral Programme of Cooperation (POC) in Science and Technology outlining five broad areas of cooperation, namely agricultural biotechnology; health, pharmaceutical & medical sciences; Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Material Science & Technology; and Ocean & Atmospheric Science.
- Joint Research Projects (JRP): Key research areas are Virology; Applications of Artificial Intelligence in diverse areas such as agriculture, health, and smart cities; Blockchain technologies on Government services/processes; and Additive manufacturing of new materials (metal and ceramics).
- Space and Energy: Both countries are also working on finalizing an MOU on cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space. In addition, India and the Philippines are also exploring cooperation in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Renewable Energy.
Also read: India-Greece Relations
By 2033, the Philippines’ economy will be worth $1 trillion, placing it in the upper middle-income bracket. The socioeconomic agenda of the Philippines, which seeks to improve circumstances for eliminating poverty and sustaining economic development and resilience in industries including agriculture, energy, and infrastructure, serves as the country’s diplomatic fulcrum.
As India advances wiser methods for a prosperous and climate-proof future, both countries are deeply committed to encouraging greater inclusivity and the empowerment of their expanding people.
These elements highlight the potential for increased trade and economic cooperation in clean energy, new technology, and innovation to support the objectives of effectively transitioning important areas of the Indian economy.
India-Philippines relations will greatly benefit from business-to-business partnerships that can be upscaled to leverage synergies between the economies.
As the Philippines works to become a spacefaring country by 2030, more vigorous capacity-building and collaboration between the Philippine Space Agency and the ISRO are on the horizon.
More intense regional collaboration is necessary to fully utilize the Indo-Pacific as an economic engine. To support the region’s position as a global economic powerhouse, more economic integration, better connectivity, and increased innovation are essential. The Philippines and India play significant roles in this regard as leaders in the promotion of inclusive multilateralism and the rule of law.
-Article by Swathi Satish