Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP101009 Awarding of the INTERFET Medal to members of the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor (PhilHSMET)

Awarding of the INTERFET Medal to members of the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor (PhilHSMET)
Remarks by Ambassador Rod Smith
9 October 2010

General Reymundo Mapagu, Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

General …… Vera, Camp Commandant, Camp Aguinaldo

Colonel ………

Members of the Armed Forces, families and friends, ladies and gentlemen

Magandang gabi sa inyong lahat, good evening.

It is an honour to be here tonight to recognise the valuable contribution made by the men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the success of INTERFET, the International Force East Timor.

INTERFET was established on 15 September 1999 by resolution of the UN Security Council with a mandate to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support the United Nations Assistance Mission, and to facilitate humanitarian assistance to the territory.

Commanded by Australian General Peter Cosgrove, INTERFET involved a deployed force of 11,000 troops from 22 nations. Australia contributed 5,700 personnel consisting of three infantry battalion groups and headquarters, and was responsible for significant logistics and equipment support to much of the force.

It was a genuinely multinational effort. Military personnel were deployed from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Fiji, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

INTERFET proved to be a highly successful mission. Hostility between coalition forces and the departing Indonesian military was avoided, and militia activities were significantly curbed, allowing the people of East Timor to commence preparations for the transition to independence. Despite a number of contacts with militias, no INTERFET troops were killed in combat.

The men and women we are honouring tonight, who were deployed as part of the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor (PhilHSMET), played an important part in this success.

PhilHSMET was deployed by the Philippine Government to provide humanitarian assistance through engineering and rehabilitation work, medical and dental services, and training and capability building. It was tasked with providing humanitarian assistance by implementing a Civil Military Operations strategy – of networking and collaborating with non-government organisations.

Over the five months of the deployment, 537 Filipino officers and enlisted personnel served with the three PhilHSMET contingents. They included doctors, nurses, dentists, construction engineers, explosive ordnance disposal personnel, agricultural specialists and mechanics. They were highly regarded for the job they did.

INTERFET of course was not the first time that Philippine and Australian soldiers and peacekeepers have served together, side by side. They did so here in the Philippines in the second World War, and they have done so many times since in a variety of theatres and peacekeeping operations.

Our cooperation in INTERFET and in these many other operations is a powerful symbol of our shared commitment to working together for the benefit of regional and international peace and security. We have a strong and longstanding tradition of bilateral defence cooperation, which we look forward to deepening further following the ratification by the Philippine Senate of our bilateral Status of Visiting Forces Agreement.

Our two countries have proud records of contributing to international peacekeeping.

For Australia’s part, we have contributed some 65,000 personnel to 52 different peacekeeping missions across the world. We remain active in several such peace operations today, including in Cyprus, Sudan, East Timor and Afghanistan. Australia has also played an active role in leading regional responses to conflicts in our own region, in East Timor, Bougainville, Fiji and Solomon Islands.

The Philippines similarly has a proud record of contributing peacekeepers to operations as far-flung as Haiti, Darfur, Sudan, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire and of course East Timor. Australia applauds your contribution.

In recent years, peacekeeping missions have become increasingly complex and multi-dimensional.

The operational role of peacekeepers has changed and they have acquired broader responsibilities. Peacekeepers are increasingly involved in non-military tasks like investigating human rights violations, training, verifying elections, providing engineering assistance and undertaking a range of critical humanitarian tasks. The nature of PhilHSMET’s contribution in East Timor is a good example of this.

In fact this multi-dimensional civil-military role that peacekeepers are increasingly being called on to perform also reflects a wider shift. Increasingly it reflects the demands being placed on many of our armed forces domestically, particularly in assisting in the aftermath of natural disasters or responding to internal security challenges. We have seen this in the excellent civil-military work the AFP is doing in Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines.

And whether it is in far-flung peacekeeping operations or in our own backyard, peacekeepers and soldiers are, rightly, looked upon as exemplars: in upholding the rule of law, in respecting the communities they serve, and in upholding the highest standards of human rights.

These qualities were certainly demonstrated by the fine service personnel we are recognising this evening. The award of the INTERFET medal is a fitting tribute to their efforts. They served the Philippines with distinction, and they made a demonstrable, practical difference on the ground for the benefit of the people of East Timor.

On behalf of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Government, I applaud your efforts, and I thank you.

Maraming salamat and mabuhay.