Philippines: You’ve got a friend
AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2019 - 12:00am

There is an old saying in diplomacy that countries don’t have friends, only interests. But in the 21st century, Australians well know that we are stronger when we work with our trusted friends. We won’t realise our goal for peaceful, safe and more prosperous lives for people in the Asia-Pacific region without our friends. So we are lucky that the Philippines counts Australia among its closest friendships – marked by an official ‘Philippines-Australia Friendship Day’ every 22nd of May.

Our friendship starts with the deep bonds between our people. Everywhere I travel around this remarkable country, Filipinos tell me stories of their connections with Australia. I’ve met so many people who’ve studied in Australia or who have family or friends now living there.

People like Anya Lim who earned her Masters in Communications for Social Change from the University of Queensland and who now works to preserve and promote weaving traditions through her social enterprise Antill Fabric Gallery in Cebu.

Or Dr. Rene Abesamis, from Silliman University, whose scientific research in Australia focused on how marine protected areas can help restore coral reef biodiversity and rebuild and sustain fisheries.

Many readers are more familiar with hugely popular Australian-born artists like Anne and Jasmine Curtis. And of course, another famous Filipino-Australian, Miss Universe, Catriona Gray. These people may be notable but they are just representative of the stories of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are part of the modern Australian story. It began with men from the Visayas who migrated to Australia in the 1800s to join the pearling industry; and it continues in modern times. 

This year we are taking our Friendship Day celebrations on the road to Cebu. There, with the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we will bring together experts and business people from both countries to look at new ways to use commerce, science and technology. It’s another way Australia and the Philippines can be partners – jointly embracing innovation.

With Philippine Accessible Disability Services, we’re holding an adaptive dragon boat race on the waters of the bay front (wish me luck!). We will open a football tournament for girls, working with FundLife, a group that uses football to help children reach their potential in education and in life. I will also meet ‘top-notchers’ from Cebu Normal University who are part of the 1,000 graduates from a teacher quality program that Australia has supported.

And over the weekend, Cebuanos will enjoy a taste of Australia at the Ayala Center Cebu. Visitors can take a virtual stroll down Melbourne’s artistic Hosier Lane. They can shop for familiar Australian food brands, check out special travel deals to Australia, and meet representatives from Australia’s quality education institutions.

Cebu’s young and stylish will walk the runway for an Australian fashion show, and at night, there will be a free concert and screening of Paper Planes, a feel good Australian family drama. Cebuanos can also watch short films featured at Flickerfest, Australia’s world-renowned short film festival. 

We couldn’t have brought this year’s Philippines Australia Friendship Day to Cebu without the support of Australian business. These firms – Austal, Crone Architects, GHD, Greenstone Resources Corp., IDP, Qantas, QBE, and Telstra – are all investing in the Philippines. These companies support Philippine jobs and help to deepen our friendship.

Philippines-Australia Friendship Day is part of an “Australia Now” celebration taking place across Southeast Asia. As I hope you can see with the events in Cebu, we will connect innovators, leaders, thinkers and social change makers. It’s all part of taking the friendships we enjoy today and building these into lasting relationships for our long term future. 

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH.)

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