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Opinion

Bayanihan into the future

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson - The Philippine Star

As I travel around the country, I already see Christmas displays, which means that another year is coming to an end. In the embassy, it is now time for us to wrap up a milestone year – 2021 marks 75 years of Australia’s diplomatic presence in the Philippines. Australia became one of the Philippines´ first bilateral partners when we opened the first Australian consulate general in Manila on 22 May 1946.

As I look back on our anniversary year, it gives me great pride to reflect on how far the Philippines-Australia friendship has come. For the past 75 years, the strength of the relationship between our countries has developed into a mature and wide-ranging partnership grounded by our shared values of mateship and bayanihan, which both connote solidarity and cooperation.

While the past year brought its challenges, we have marked this significant milestone with a year-long celebration which brought me to different parts of the Philippines. I visited 28 cities and provinces where I met various local partners in the government, private sector and civil society. I joined the Australia Global Alumni network in their initiative to plant 750 trees across the country. With our local partners in Bukidnon, we released the Philippine Eagle Tagyaman as part of our commitment to protect our natural resources. And recently, I traveled to Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Surigao Strait.

To conclude the anniversary year, we will premiere a video series on our online platforms to share the story of Australia’s long history with the Philippines, our bayanihan in action with the Philippines in response to COVID-19, as well as our ongoing defence cooperation which has achieved greater heights despite the pandemic.

One of the things that the pandemic taught us is the importance of taking care of our health, including our mental health. On the first week of December, in partnership with SM, we will be bringing together our Australian-educated Filipino alumni and leaders in the field of health and wellness in an outdoor festival at SM by the Bay. The festival will highlight our alumni’s advocacy on inclusive mobility and active transport. Activities will include cycling, as well as physical and mental wellness sessions led by our partners from the Filipino-Australian community – Fitness First and Mind You Mental Health (MYMH), a mental health technology company supported by Australia’s Business Partnership Platform.

We cannot always gather, but I am keen to see more Filipinos be part of the celebration. One way to do this is to bring our much-anticipated Taste of Australia retail promotion online. Last weekend, we launched the Taste of Australia on Lazada as part of our anniversary celebration, and this weekend, we will also launch “TasteOfAustralia.PH,” a one-stop shop microsite featuring Filipino online merchants with Australian brands in their line-up.

While the anniversary year is coming to a close, our mateship and bayanihan will continue well into the future. We continue to work with the Philippine Government and delivery partners to help achieve a more prosperous, stable and resilient Philippines, and continue our assistance in the areas of health security, maintaining stability and economic recovery.

We also maintain our support for vaccine delivery in the Philippines to boost the country’s response and sustain recovery from COVID-19.  Australia has increased its commitment to COVID-19 vaccine access and delivery in the Philippines to a total of P1.8 billion over the next two years. This support has been directed towards vaccine procurement, vaccine delivery support and the provision of expert health advice, in line with the priorities of the Philippine Government.

Yesterday, the first batch of 700,000 additional vaccine doses arrived in Manila. These vaccines are part of the approximately 3.6 million doses donated by Australia for the Philippines, and are in addition to Australia’s contribution to the COVAX Facility which to date has delivered 27.9 million doses to the country.

To support the economic recovery of the Philippines, Australia is working innovatively with partners to strengthen policies and institutions and advance inclusive economic growth. We have been working with local governments and women-led small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to increase their preparedness for, and resilience to, economic shocks, including impacts from climate change.

Ensuring that young Filipinos reach their full potential is critical for the Philippines’ recovery from the pandemic and long-term prosperity. Australia will continue to assist in systemic reforms to make quality education accessible to all, upgrading skills in the vocational sectors and support child protection mechanisms in the communities and schools to keep children safe from online dangers.

We continue to support the peace process and are helping at least 4,000 families or around 20,000 people in Marawi to restart lost livelihoods and recover from the impact of three major shocks – armed conflict, protracted displacement and COVID-19.

And our police, armed forces and maritime and aviation security group all continue their long-standing cooperation with their Philippine counterparts to address issues on security, border protection and transnational crimes through the pandemic and beyond.

Our network of Australia-educated and trained Filipinos has embodied our spirit of bayanihan, undertaking small projects with immediate impact such as training health workers to provide mental health support to their communities and providing women-led enterprises with e-commerce tools to increase revenue amidst the community quarantines.

As we recover together from these trying times, we thank our friends, partners, our alumni and all the individuals who have worked tirelessly with us over the decades, specially the past two years.

Here’s to many more years of mateship and bayanihan.

*      *      *

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

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