Building on strong foundations

LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA - HK Yu, PSM - The Philippine Star

Dear friends,

Earlier this month, I presented my credentials to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. at the Malacañan Palace.

Every ambassador to the Philippines begins their official role by receiving a formal military welcome by the Presidential Honour Guard, meeting the President in the Palace’s Reception Hall and laying a wreath at the Rizal Monument.

As I ascended the Palace’s grand main staircase, on which many historical images have been taken, I reflected on the equally long history of our bilateral relationship.

With the formalities completed, the President and I, with officials from the administration and our embassy, sat down for our first bilateral discussion. I am grateful for the President’s warm welcome and his regard of Australia as a strong partner to the Philippines.

My conversation with the President was as broad as the partnership between our countries.

We discussed how Australia has been a long-time supporter of peace in Mindanao, providing assistance since 1972. Our collaboration with Philippine security and intelligence agencies is deep in tackling terrorism and transnational crime in areas such as maritime and aviation security, organized crime and preventing sexual exploitation of children. This collaboration will remain an important part of our partnership.

I shared with the President how our two-way trade and investment is growing. Despite the pandemic, we have seen an increase in Australian companies in the Philippines and Philippine companies in Australia. We estimate more than 300 Australian companies are in the Philippines, employing more than 44,000 Filipinos.

One of the things highlighted in my conversation with the President is our legacy of mateship and bayanihan.

During WWII, thousands of Australians fought side by side with Filipino and US forces for the liberation of the Philippines.

Today, our defence partnership is stronger than ever, underpinned by the four bilateral defence agreements and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program which enable our defence personnel to train and build capabilities together.

Just last week, we had HMAS Stalwart and HMAS Hobart in the Philippines as part of Australia’s Indo Pacific Endeavour 2022 (IPE22) deployment to the region. IPE22 is an opportunity for the Philippines and Australia to build our practical bilateral cooperation and strengthen our interoperability.

The visit allowed representatives from the Australian and Philippine governments to collaborate at senior level meetings between Australian Defence Force and  Armed Forces of the Philippines’ personnel; conduct passage exercises between the Royal Australian Navy and Philippine Navy vessels; exchange ideas in a multiagency workshop focused on maritime security and law as well as in gender, peace and security; train and build capabilities together in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenario response.

I also talked about Australia’s development cooperation in the Philippines. How, in the spirit of bayanihan, Australia has been working closely with the government and our Philippine partners and friends to ensure that Australia’s fifth largest bilateral development program focuses on the President’s areas of priority.

Our investment in education and skills development in the Philippines is promoting inclusive economic growth and contributing to peace and stability. We have worked closely with the Department of Education for over 30 years to improve both access to education and the quality of teaching. In the Bangsamoro region, the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao program helps deliver education services in remote and conflict-affected communities. During COVID-19, we helped ensure learning continuity for students to avoid an increase in school dropout rates, which would have long-term economic and social implications. We assisted with distance learning by training teachers to deliver classes remotely, including tailored support for learners with disabilities. We also trained parents and children to deal with the increased risks of online child sexual exploitation and abuse during the pandemic.

Australia has a legacy as a humanitarian partner to the Philippines. Since the 1990s, Australia has provided emergency relief and recovery assistance to thousands of Filipinos following natural disasters, conflict and a pandemic. Pre-positioning of supplies has been an innovation of Australia’s emergency assistance since 2013. Today, we work with government and humanitarian partners on improving and enhancing cash assistance services after disasters so we can help affected families meet their most basic needs, restore their livelihoods and rebuild their lives.

Building on this humanitarian legacy, we supported the Philippines on health security and recovery from the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, Australia supported equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines through vaccine procurement, vaccine delivery support and provision of health advice. We are now working to support the Philippines as it implements economic and structural reforms for post-COVID recovery.

And across the range of work of the embassy, we remain committed to supporting vulnerable groups, including women and children. Australia is taking practical steps to support the needs of women and girls in the Philippines towards economic empowerment, active participation in peace and governance and assuming leadership roles.

As part of this, we also had my colleague the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Christine Clarke CSC visit the Philippines this month. Ambassador Clarke was in Manila and Cebu to highlight the achievements of our development program in improving the lives of Filipino women and girls.

In Cebu, Ambassador Clarke visited a Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) center which shelters children rescued from sexual exploitation. Australia is working to protect girls and boys through the SaferKidsPH program, which supports the Philippine government’s efforts to address online sexual exploitation and abuse of children through raising awareness on children’s online safety and promoting child-sensitive investigation, prosecution and adjudication of cases.

While we have achieved much, more needs to be done on gender equality.

Australia is helping build the foundations for more inclusive economic growth in the Philippines, including through promoting the economic empowerment of Filipino women.

Through our flagship Investing in Women initiative, Australia is promoting gender equality in Filipino workplaces through the Philippines Business Coalitions for Women’s Empowerment (PBCWE) and by increasing access to finance to women-led small and medium-sized enterprises.

As I departed Malacañan Palace, I reflected on these complex times and the challenges and opportunities these present. Walking by the century-old heritage tree on the Palace grounds, I thought of how our cooperation and partnership are branches and roots that continue to grow and expand. And as we upgrade our relationship to a Strategic Partnership, these roots built over the decades will keep our friendship with the Philippines strong and firm. We can look forward to exciting times ahead.

Yours truly,


*      *      *

HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. You can follow Ambassador Yu on Twitter @AusAmbPH.

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