Celebrating 75 years of friendship

Seventy-five years ago this week, on May 22, 1946, Australia opened its first consulate-general in Manila. It was the beginning of one of the longest and most important bilateral relations for Australia.

Now, May 22 is celebrated as Philippine-Australia Friendship Day.

With prevailing COVID-19 community quarantine, we are not able to gather for Friendship Day this year. We have instead put together an exciting online festival, so that everyone across the Philippines can be part of the celebration.

Over May 22 and 23, we are hosting a free and on-demand “Stream and Sip” Australian film festival at our 75th anniversary website mateshipandbayanihan.com. We have worked with Screen Australia and Flickerfest Festival to offer Filipino film lovers a selection of full-length and short films which have not been shown in the Philippines before. This festival is an opportunity to experience Australian contemporary culture from the safety of one’s home while sipping on your favorite beverage.

What we are really celebrating this year is the depth of the friendship and partnership between Australia and the Philippines which has stood firm throughout good times and bad – including the events of the past year.

Last week, I joined Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to witness lighting up the iconic SM Mall of Asia LED Globe, which is featuring images from our 75 Stories of Friendship between Australia and the Philippines.

Our story is one of an enduring friendship – from the liberation of the Philippines starting in the waters of Leyte in World War II, to the construction of schools and roads across the country and, most recently, in responding to the challenges of COVID-19 – Australia and the Philippines have stood side-by-side as trusted friends do.

This friendship starts with the deep bonds between our people. Everywhere I travel around this remarkable country, Filipinos tell me stories of their connections with Australia. We have collected some of these stories of friendship and partnership and you can find them on our commemorative website.

There’s an old way of thinking that countries don’t have friends, only interests. But Australia knows that we are stronger when we work with those we trust. We can’t realize our goals for peaceful, safe and more prosperous lives for all people in the region without our friends.

At the embassy, our police, defence and maritime and aviation security staff, all continue their long-standing cooperation with their Philippine counterparts despite the pandemic. This reflects a shared recognition that cross-border cooperation is the most effective way to address issues on security, border protection and transnational crimes.

Through the Australia-Philippines Defence Cooperation Program, Australia is the Philippines’ second largest counter-terrorism and defence cooperation partner. We will continue to work closely with the Philippine government to address the ongoing threat of terrorism.

We also support the Philippines’ modernization efforts on maritime issues. Through a new Philippine Civil Maritime Security Program (PCMSP), Australia aims to support the Philippines to strengthen its civil maritime security.

Australia has also continued to make strong development investments despite COVID-19.

In early 2020, we launched our “Partnerships for Recovery” and Australia was able to redirect our A$80 million or P2.8 billion development cooperation program to reinforce the Philippine response to the pandemic. Our support is flexible and responsive to the priorities of the Philippine government.

As vice-chair of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance Board, Australia successfully advocated for the Philippines to be eligible for COVAX Facility Advanced Market Commitment doses and their early delivery.

We are pleased that the Philippines has received four shipments totalling 2,749,050 doses through the COVAX AMC. This is the second highest number of doses delivered in Southeast Asia.

While aid is an important contributor to development, economic growth is vital to creating sustainable prosperity.

There are encouraging signs in our commercial ties even through COVID-19. There are 330 Australian companies investing in the Philippines, employing around 44,000 Filipinos, mainly in the business process outsourcing (BPOs), mining and services sectors.

I am confident that the Philippine-Australian economic ties will be strengthened in the coming years as the Philippines bounces back from the pandemic. Australian companies are actively exploring opportunities in digital services and technology innovation, including solutions to expand e-commerce platforms, improve cybersecurity and boost online education.

Many Australian companies eyeing expansion in the Southeast Asian region are interested in the Philippines. It is a testament to the potential and talent of Filipinos.

For example, online design and publishing platform Canva, whose founder and CEO is Filipino-Australian Melanie Perkins, continues to invest in its Philippines office, creating opportunities for local talents. The embassy has partnered with Canva for our Friendship Day online design #CanvaChallenge.

We also could not have celebrated this year’s Philippines-Australia Friendship Day without the strong support of Australian business. Firms such as Austal, Crone Architects, GHD, Greenstone Resources Corp., IDP, Qantas, QBE and Telstra are all investing in the Philippines, supporting jobs and helping to deepen our friendship.

I would like to thank SM for celebrating the anniversary with us; they have been a friend to the embassy for many years, supporting our cultural and milestone events that help bring our people together. I consider Hans and Carol Sy as friends, and Hans Sy Jr. is one of our outstanding Australia Global Alumni.

Finally, our network of Australian-educated Filipinos are our citizen-ambassadors of friendship. They are the Philippines’ best and brightest who are helping forge stronger bonds between our peoples through their work in government, industry and civil society; and by leading the celebrations for Friendship Day each year.

I am very confident the friendships we enjoy today will build our relationship long into the future. Happy Friendship Day!

* * *

Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. For more on the 75th Anniversary celebration, visit mateshipandbayanihan.com and follow the Australian embassy on Facebook at Australia in the Philippines, Twitter @AusAmbPH and Instagram @AusEmbPH, as well as the hashtag #FilAussieDay.

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Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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