The Year for mateship and bayanihan

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2020 - 12:00am

In my Christmas message last year, I ended the article wishing everyone the best of the Festive Season and a Happy New Year – “I hope it’s a good one!” quoting John Lennon.

The year 2020 didn’t go as many of us had planned.  Nonetheless, through all the pain and anguish that multiple natural disasters and COVID-19 brought us this year, I remain inspired by the fortitude and resilience of people in the Philippines and Australia.

Through all these challenges too, the Australian tradition of mateship and the Filipino spirit of bayanihan were most evident.

It revealed the heroes walking among us – from the firefighters and volunteers who saved lives and properties during the bushfires; to the medical and health workers who are our frontliners in the fight against COVID-19; and the government and community workers who responded to the Taal Volcano eruption at the beginning of the year and to the series of typhoons at the end.

We have proven, time and time again, that in the face of adversity we stand together – the Philippines and Australia.

I was really touched by the outpouring of concern for Australia with the bushfires at the beginning of the year; the letters and messages offering comfort and practical support. From the Philippine national and local governments (as far away as Davao and Zamboanga), organizations like the Red Cross, to people such as Senator Manny Pacquiao and Ms. Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, and others all around the country, there was so much support.

As trusted friends, we assisted one another – in good times and bad.

Australia and the Philippines have worked together on development for many decades and that hasn’t changed because of the coronavirus. Very early in the pandemic, we redirected our existing programs to reinforce the Philippine response against COVID-19. With the Philippine Red Cross and the United Nations Population Fund, Australia has provided AUD3.2 million for health equipment for frontline health workers. Our Enhanced Defence Cooperation also allowed us to provide AUD3 million to the Armed Forces of the Philippines V. Luna Medical Center and affiliate health centers. This assistance meant that tens of thousands of patients and medical staff received personal protective equipment; hospitals and medical centers received critical supplies like ventilators and testing kits. We also equipped the largest COVID-19 testing laboratory in the country and provided new ambulances specifically designed to transport COVID-19 patients.

As the year progressed, and our lives were disrupted not only by COVID but by the series of typhoons, Australia was there providing humanitarian assistance as needed. Beginning with Typhoon Ursula and most recently to Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, Australia worked with partners the Philippine Red Cross and the United Nations Population Fund to deliver life-saving shelter and dignity kits to the most vulnerable communities.

News of vaccine breakthroughs mean that we might have nearly reached the beginning of the corner which will see our fortunes turn for the better.

But I also have another reason to be excited for 2021 – the coming year marks the 75th anniversary of the Philippines-Australia diplomatic relationship.  Despite the challenges of the current situation, we intend to mark this milestone appropriately. Keep in touch with the embassy via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @AusEmbPH to learn more about what we are planning for the anniversary.

Christmas is now once again within sight, and while we cannot gather over the holidays as we have in past years, I trust that you will be able to find a meaningful way to mark the season with hope for better times ahead.

So I will take this opportunity to wish everyone Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon. Relish the time – socially distanced – with your families after what has been the hardest of years.

May the New Year bring hope that the worst of the trials of 2020 are behind us.  Please stay safe and stay healthy.

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

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