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PH envoy: Italy hoping to strengthen defense cooperation with Philippines

Italian President Sergio Mattarella wants to intensify defense cooperation with the Philippines and underscored the value of the 2016 arbitral ruling in strengthening freedom of navigation and overflight and regional stability, Manila’s top envoy to Rome said Tuesday.

Philippine Ambassador Neal Imperial said Mattarella conveyed Italy’s aspiration to bolster relations with the Philippines when he presented his credentials as the new Filipino envoy to Italy on June 15 at the Palazzo del Quirinale.

During his talks with Mattarella, Imperial thanked Italy as a party to the G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué, which criticized China’s militarization of the South China Sea and declared that Beijing’s expansive maritime claims have no legal basis.

The communiqué, which was issued in May, also expressed support to the arbitral ruling, which upheld Philippine sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone and denigrated China’s expansive territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

The G7 is a group of industrialized powers made up of Italy, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan and the European Union.

In a statement issued from Rome, Imperial said he “expressed appreciation for Italy’s recognition in the communiqué of the significance of the Indo-Pacific and for its explicit support for the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea which upholds the rule of law and stability in maritime areas.”

“President Mattarella recognized the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific. He agreed with the significance of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling on freedom of navigation and overflight and regional stability,” the statement said.

Italy’s stance adds a powerful voice in addition to those of the United States, Japan, and Australia that the longstanding territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Imperial said Mattarella expressed hopes Italy could intensify defense cooperation with the Philippines, particularly on the procurement of defense equipment.

Imperial responded by welcoming “Italy’s participation in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the country is diversifying its sources of supply of defense equipment.”

Imperial also expressed appreciation for Italy’s hospitality for hosting an estimated 165,000 Filipinos in Italy.

Mattarella, he said, “praised the Filipino community in the country and affirmed that they have integrated very well into Italian society.”

Imperial told the Italian leader that second and third generations of Filipinos have integrated into the fabric of Italian society well and they have emerged as the Philippines’ best goodwill ambassadors.

Imperial expressed hopes of further increasing the two-way trade between the Philippines and Italy in his term.

As the Philippines and Italy mark 75 years of their bilateral relations in July, Imperial encouraged the convening of bilateral mechanisms, such as political consultations, as soon as possible to give direction and momentum to the growing ties between the two countries.  — RSJ, GMA Integrated News