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Reasons to be cheerful this Christmas

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2019 - 12:00am

So this is Christmas. And what have you done? You might think this famous song by John Lennon sits at the top of the list for diplomats. After all, who wouldn’t wish that “war is over, if you want it”? I must confess though that Christmas songs are not my favorite genre. Don’t worry, I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge! I love Christmas and think of the season as a time to be thankful and optimistic about the future. So let me use my last column of the year to offer several reasons to be cheerful about the ties between the Philippines and Australia. 

This country’s economy continues to expand and is forecast to grow at 6.2 percent or more next year. This is good for the Filipino people and it also means more opportunities for business with Australian companies. There are more than 300 Australian companies on the ground in the Philippines. The trade relationship is worth $4.5 billion. I want to see this grow even larger in the years ahead. Australian companies employ over 44,000 staff in sectors such as business processing, finance, professional services and education and infrastructure.

 Many are working directly to support local community development too. I really enjoyed my time in Cebu back in May, working with a school adopted by Australian insurance firm, QBE.  As part of the annual Brigada Eskwela working bee, we cleaned, painted, and did the gardening to make the school ready for students starting the new school year. QBE’s, and our, contribution was a small step in helping those less fortunate than ourselves – which goes hand in hand with other activities we undertake that serve to stimulate economic growth and business investment bettering the lives of many.

 Another reason to be cheerful is the work of the thousands of Australian-educated Filipinos who are contributing to this country’s progress in so many fields. In addition to their professional successes, their community spirit is something to be proud of. I want to salute the exceptional spirit shown by our Australian alumni group in Davao who all pitched in to help people displaced by recent earthquakes, particularly in Cotabato. The alumni bought, packed and delivered food, water, mats, blankets and tents to some 300 families affected by the disaster. A true display of bayanihan, or mateship, as we call it in Australia.  

 The goodwill of this civilian co-operation is matched by the trusting relationships between our two military forces. This year, we continued to train together in provinces from Rizal to Zamboanga Del Sur to counter common threats we face today. All together around 10,000 Filipino soldiers have participated in this training.

 Meanwhile, committed Australian volunteers have continued to immerse themselves in local communities across the islands. For instance, we have one volunteer working with local fishing communities in Camarines Sur to improve incomes and another working to build eco-tourism potential in Negros Occidental. These are just some of the reasons to feel positive about the country’s progress and Australia’s contribution toward that.

 I’ve seen the country’s dynamism myself in the 21 provinces I’ve visited over the past year from Basilan to Nueva Vizcaya. Not quite the full A to Z, but I plan to get to Aurora and Antique soon as part of my goal to visit every province in the country during my posting. I’ve been humbled that in spite of the clear hardships that many people in the provinces face, particularly in those deeply affected by natural disasters, they still project a strong sense of hope and positivity.

 In that same uplifting spirit let me wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I hope it’s a good one!

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

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