Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP130805 - Speech at Iftar 2013

Speech by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Iftar 2013
Blue Mosque, Maharlika Village, Taguig City
5 August 2013

Salaam aleikum. Magandang gabi po. Firstly, thank you all for being here for this special occasion.

Last year I hosted an Iftar dinner at my home. This year it is an honour to join you in Taguig’s Blue Mosque as you break the fast.

I am so pleased the Australian Embassy has been able to join forces with the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos to host this Iftar.

I would like to acknowledge the tireless work of the Secretary, Commissioners and staff of the NCMF for the work they do toward promoting Muslim culture and interests in the Philippines.

Please allow me also to acknowledge the presence of:
- Grand Imam Ustadz Abdulrafih Sayedy
- Ambassador Mohsin Razi of Pakistan
- Ambassador Hatice Pintar Isik of Turkey
- Ambassador-Designate Asif Ahmad of the United Kingdom
- Assemblyman Muhammad Sarapuddin of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly
- Assistant Secretary Nariman Ambolodto of the Department of Interior and Local Government

Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would also like to welcome our friends and partners from Muslim and interfaith civil society organisations.

We are also joined by friends from other embassies, international development organisations, members of the peace-building community, and my valued officers and staff from the Australian Embassy.

At the outset, may I say – to all those who have been fasting - I admire your fortitude. We have some Muslim staff at the Australian Embassy. Hearing stories of them fasting during a hot day of meetings in Cagayan de Oro fills me with pride and admiration.

As we all know, Ramadan is a time of sacrifice and compassion. It is shared by Muslims throughout the world, including Australia.

It's a time to reflect on the wisdom and guidance that for many people comes with faith. It is also an opportunity for families and friends to come together, and to promote goodwill and harmony in the wider community.

Australia is home to nearly half a million Muslims. Islam is our country's fourth largest religion. The Australian Muslim community is diverse and is drawn from over 60 different ethnic backgrounds. They are very much part of the fabric of Australian society, playing an important role in every aspect of Australian life. Australians are proud of our record in promoting the ‘overlap of cultures’.

We have tried to apply that approach to our development work in the Philippines. Around half of Australia’s development cooperation program in the Philippines is focused on Mindanao, mostly in Muslim Mindanao. For example, we are supporting around 20,000 children to attend pre-school in 800 Tahderiyyah Learning Centres. These 3 to 5 year olds in conflict-affected communities do not have access to government schools, and, in many cases, their parents did not previously trust the government curriculum. Through our support, the government has now recognised a new culture-responsive curriculum, building a bridge between these communities and government that will hopefully have a broader influence. Australia is proud to work with UNICEF and the Bangsamoro Development Authority on this challenge.

In the past twelve months, Australian aid has also helped open over 400 Community Learning Centres, providing access to basic education for more than 11,000 children in Mindanao. None of these predominantly Muslim communities previously had an elementary school.

These investments in education are also supported by our commitment to the ongoing struggle for peace. Just last week, the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, announced that Australia will give a further 1.8 million Australian dollars – or around 70 million pesos – to support the push for peace in Mindanao.

1.3 million dollars – or around 50 million pesos – will be directed to the Mindanao Trust Fund to help improve livelihoods, health and education in conflict-affected communities.

500,000 dollars - or around 20 million pesos – will be given to the World Bank and the UN to assist the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with training, policy advice and technical assistance to finalise the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

These are clearly substantial sums. So why does Australia believe these are worthwhile investments?

First and foremost, our development assistance aims to address poverty. Provinces in Muslim Mindanao consistently rank as some of the poorest in the Philippines.

Another important factor is that a more stable and prosperous Philippines contributes to the stability and prosperity of the whole neighbourhood, including Australia.

In the Philippine government’s negotiations with the MILF, we admire greatly the steps that both peace panels – and indeed both communities – have taken towards a peaceful future.

Your work on negotiating a peaceful solution to conflict in Mindanao is critical. Finding a just and lasting solution is not just a burden, but also an opportunity.

For security, stability and prosperity in Mindanao can only contribute towards the security, stability and prosperity of the region.

In conclusion, I congratulate you, as representatives of the Filipino Muslim community, on the steps that you are taking towards peace.

I encourage you to continue those efforts over the months and years ahead.

Shukran, thank you, and maraming salamat.