Australia Day 2018: Philippines-Australia relations has gone 'from strength to strength'
by Ambassador Amanda Gorely
As I approach my third Australia Day in the Philippines, our relationship has gone from strength to strength, culminating in the visit of Prime Minister Turnbull in November. His visit to the Philippines featured prominently in his launch of the 2017 Australian Foreign White Paper a few weeks later. The White Paper sets the strategic framework for Australian foreign policy for the next decade and underlines how critical the security and prosperity of this region is to Australia.
With the outbreak of the devastating Marawi siege, the Australian Government immediately offered its support to the Philippine Government, recognising the threat of ISIS gaining a foothold in our region. Australian military aircraft relayed daily, real-time intelligence to the AFP, providing capability that General Guerrero told Prime Minister Turnbull was “game-changing” in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) overcoming the insurgents.
I had the privilege of meeting some of the AFP veterans of the Marawi operation and paid tribute to their courage and resilience. Australian soldiers are providing intensive training to the AFP to enhance their urban warfare skills and are learning from the AFP’s experience in Marawi. I recently visited the training teams on a wet, windy day at the Ternate base in Cavite. I left for the comparative safety of my office, in no doubt about the sheer guts and determination it takes to operate in a combat environment.
The resilience of the Filipino people in the face of conflict and natural disasters has continued to hearten me. Natural disasters seem to have happened in unrelenting succession recently. Australia has provided relief to displaced and disaster-affected people in support of the efforts of the Philippine Government and NGOs. Over the Christmas period, the thoughts of many Australians turned to the Philippines as they watched footage of raging floodwaters in Mindanao and the Visayas.
In this column last year, I mentioned how much I enjoyed my travels around the country and I pledged to visit Palawan. I have since visited twice and, yes, Coron now takes pride of place as the most stunning location so far.
Australia’s deep relationship with the Philippines has also taken me to places that are not yet on the Aussie tourist trail, but are equally fascinating. I visited Cotabato City to observe some of the education activities we have supported. I travelled to Zamboanga to meet two Australian patrol boats conducting joint activities with the Philippine Navy in the Sulu Sea. I accompanied Foreign Minister Bishop on her trip to Davao where she had a productive meeting with the President in his hometown.
I have sampled many interesting and delicious regional delicacies and even tried balut (no comment!). I have collected beautiful textiles distinctive to different parts of this country woven by very talented women. I have met a majestic Philippine eagle.
As I head into the last twelve months of my posting, I feel a sense of optimism and excitement about where our relationship is heading. I look forward to the ASEAN Australia Leaders’ Summit in Sydney in March, for the first time in Australia. We will celebrate the second Philippine-Australia Friendship Day – this year in Davao. We are organising a trade event in Clark for Australian companies, hosting a Women in Sport conference and will participate in the first Manila Biennale. Our defence and intelligence cooperation will continue to grow.
If the mighty Mayon volcano permits, I will mark Australia Day in Legazpi exploring this historically fascinating region. Trips to Batanes, Northern Luzon, El Nido and Dumaguete are also in the pipeline. I am impatient to pack as much as possible into the time I have left in this culturally rich and environmentally diverse country.
Happy Australia Day and Mabuhay!