Umay kayo! Dayón kamo!

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

Dear Friends,

Today, I am writing to you from the historic city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, where I am completing a visit, including the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Abra.

This is my first time to this northern part of the country, and like everywhere I have traveled so far in the Philippines, I have been impressed by the friendliness of the people and the vibrancy of each region, its traditions and natural beauty.

I have been amazed by the rich diversity that can be found in so many different areas of the archipelago. Just two weeks ago, I was in the other end of the Philippines. I visited the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato City and Maguindanao del Norte, where I also met many inspiring people and thoroughly enjoyed the local delicacies on offer.  And I had similar experiences late last year when I visited Cebu and Davao City.

While getting to know different parts of the Philippines is very enjoyable (and I would encourage more and more Australian tourists to visit!), I am traveling outside of Manila because just like Australia is more than Canberra, the Philippines is more than its capital and Australia’s engagement with the Philippines is spread far and wide.

During my recent travels, I have seen this firsthand. For example, Australia has been a long-time supporter of peace, education and development in Mindanao and much of Australia’s development support of over P3 billion is focused on the BARMM. While in Cotabato, I inaugurated the first of seven Australian Government-supported skills training centers which will provide important technical training skills to former combatants and their children, helping to build peaceful and economically resilient communities. I also saw how Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine support continues to assist local barangay health centers in providing frontline services to many people, including young mothers.

This week in Abra, I saw how Australia’s rapid disaster assistance after last year’s earthquake directly helped those most affected. In both Abra and the Ilocos provinces, and in fact in all of my travels, I discussed Australia’s support for education, including under the prestigious Australia Awards program which has provided scholarships to talented Filipinos across the entire country. Everywhere I have gone, I have met local alumni cohorts of Australian-educated Filipinos who have come back to the Philippines and applied what they have learnt in Australia to make a real positive difference to their local communities.

And it is not just in the development sphere where Australia is engaged with the regions. World-class Australian companies have major investments spread throughout the Philippines, including Austal’s shipyard in Balamban, Cebu; Oceana Gold’s mine in Nueva Vizcaya/Quirino and Orica’s plant in Bataan. These businesses generate local jobs and technology transfers and support sustainable regional economic development.

In the opposite direction, Australia has sourced Filipino products from many different regions, ranging from Guimaras’ mangoes to the delicious durians from Belviz Farms in Davao.

Our people connections also go far beyond just our major cities. Many of the first Filipinos who settled in Australia in the 1800s came from across the Visayas, and there are now Filipinos and their descendants living in Australia from every pocket of the country. Similarly, Australian forces fought in major battles for the liberation of the Philippines in the Second World War in Leyte, Surigao and the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan and those areas maintain a special connection with Australia to this day.

Later this year in May, Australia will join the city of Iloilo to celebrate the official annual Australia-Philippines Friendship Day, bringing people together including alumni, business, development partners, government and civil society. I am really looking forward to taking our Friendship Day back to the Visayas and visiting that part of the country.

Regular readers of this column may be aware that in 2023, Australia and the Philippines are also working towards elevating our bilateral relationship to a Strategic Partnership. Just as our relationship is not just Manila-Canberra based, the Australia-Philippines Strategic Partnership will strengthen our partnerships across many areas of the country, well beyond our capitals.

I am so lucky that the Australia-Philippine partnership takes me all over the Philippines and look forward to continuing to discover the wonderful country. My only fear is that one day I will be asked where my favorite place is in the Philippines… that is going to be a hard one to answer!

Yours truly,


*      *      *

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

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