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Australia is a friend in hard times

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2020 - 12:00am

COVID-19 is indeed a global challenge. According to the World Health Organization, almost 25 million people have been infected worldwide. We are now seeing how the economies of many nations have been impacted too. At the community level, families continue to juggle work and caring responsibilities, as many schools remain closed. The suffering is immense, especially for those who have lost jobs, or even worse, loved ones as a result of this pandemic.

It is in times like these that friendships truly matter. This applies not only to families, individuals and communities, it is also the same for nations. In my previous column, I commemorated Friendship Day and the importance of the Australia-Philippines relationship. Here I want to outline some of the ways we have demonstrated this friendship, which is so important right now.

Australia and the Philippines have a long-running development cooperation partnership. For decades now, this has seen targeted investments made in areas such as education, peace building and humanitarian response. We’ve been there during many major crises and have remained committed to helping the next generation of Filipinos succeed. Therefore, when it came to helping boost the Philippines’ own COVID-19 response, we were ready and willing to assist.

Our COVID-19 assistance focuses on health needs, stability and economic recovery. So how are we doing this? On health support, we have worked with local partners, such as the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), to help boost COVID-19 testing capacity. Australian funding has helped establish and operate the biggest testing laboratory in the country, which together with PRC Head Senator Richard Gordon, I was proud to assist in opening a few weeks ago. On its own, this one laboratory has so far conducted over 164,000 tests, and many of these were for Filipino workers returning from overseas.

We have also helped source protective equipment for many of the true heroes of the pandemic – Filipino health workers. Australia’s assistance has so far provided over one million masks, a specially designed ambulance that keeps both COVD-19 patients and health staff safe, as well as testing kits, spraying equipment, and mobile triage facilities for pregnant women. We are supporting local research efforts too, through grants for Filipino Australian alumni to implement COVID-19 community development projects. In addition to Official Development Assistance efforts, the Australian Defence Force has purchased medical equipment for a Philippine military hospital.

I know that the lockdowns, while necessary, have been challenging for families with school-aged children. Given that Australia has been an education partner with the Philippines for over 40 years, it makes sense that we help transition how schooling is delivered. So through the Department of Education, Australia is assisting with distance learning, including by helping prepare teachers to deliver classes remotely, and promoting hygiene in schools. To help keep children safe while they spend more time online, we’ve promoted a campaign that alerts parents to the risks of online exploitation of children by predators.

The Philippines, like many countries, is looking for ways to help those in desperate need while also promoting economic recovery. Australia is helping with these efforts, including through support for the design of a digital solutions for faster and more transparent payment of cash transfers to the poorest and most vulnerable. We are also helping women and children affected by violence, and providing support to women-led small and medium enterprises, including emergency funding.

Friendship counts most during difficult days, and as we all know, the actions of true friends speak much louder than words. So I’m proud that through our development partnership, we continue to demonstrate bayanihan and Aussie mateship when it is needed most.

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

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