Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Iftar Reception, 22 July 2014
Excellencies, distinguished guests
Assalum Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh! (May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you.)
Firstly, let our thoughts go out to those affected by Typhoon Glenda in recent days, and to the loved ones of those Filipinos and nationals of other countries who perished when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.
Let me warmly welcome you all here this evening; partners and colleagues from different Philippine national and local government agencies; from the MILF; from other embassies; civil society; the academe; international development organisations; and members of the peace-building community.
On behalf of the Australian Embassy, I extend our best and warmest wishes to our Muslim brothers and sisters here today and also to their families at home. Ramadan kareem! (Blessed Ramadan)
Australia is home to nearly half a million Muslims who are very much part of the fabric of Australia society. They are part and parcel of the diverse and interwoven cultures and faiths that make up and define Australia. Muslims in Australia occupy leading positions in politics, in business, in sport, in entertainment, and in the broader community.
Like other people not of the Islamic faith, I have come to know about Ramadan from Muslim friends and colleagues. I understand it is a time for fasting, reflection and prayer. I also know that it is time when families, friends and communities gather together to share blessings – as we are now gathered here today to celebrate Iftar together.
I admire the fortitude of our Muslim brothers and sisters in performing a month-long fast despite the challenges of hot and humid days which are usual in a country like the Philippines; or being around people of other faiths who are not fasting. As we know, every gathering within the Philippines happily merits the serving of good food!
This year, Ramadan comes after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Some of those who have worked towards the signing of the agreement are here tonight and I’m pleased to be able to have a Bangsamoro flavour to tonight’s Iftar.
Australia, through its development assistance program, has been supporting peace efforts in conflict-affected Mindanao since 1995.
Australia, through partner organisations, has focussed on four key priorities: (1) increasing women’s participation in the peace process; (2) promoting peace education among youth; (3) increasing capacity of communities to better manage local level violence; and (4) providing technical assistance to the negotiating parties in various stages of the peace negotiations.
Australia also works through multi-lateral mechanisms. Since 2005 we, together with other friends in the international community, have provided support through the Mindanao Trust Fund which supports communities in their reconstruction and development efforts.
More recently, Australia has funded the Facility for Advisory Support for Transition Capacities, or FASTRAC, which provides technical and operational support to the peace panels and to transitional bodies such as the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and the Independent Commission on Policing.
And Australia remains ready to provide follow-up expertise in the area of policing, after our support to the Independent Commission on Policing.
In the area of education, where almost half of the Australian aid program is focused, a significant portion is directed to Muslim Mindanao through the Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) Program. BEAM uses a multi-pronged approach in supporting education in Muslim Mindanao, which includes construction or rehabilitation of classrooms, community learning centres, and improving the quality of teaching.
Our Foreign Minister, the Honourable Julie Bishop MP, has expressed Australia’s firm and continuing support to the efforts of the Philippine Government and MILF in achieving a just and lasting peace. In January of this year, she announced an additional $6 million funding in support of the peace process. Ms Bishop reiterated Australia’s support when Australia joined the global chorus of congratulatory messages with the signing of the historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March.
These programs and activities that I have mentioned are, at the end of the day, just support to those who are driving the peace process – our friends in the Philippine Government and the MILF. We salute them for their hard work, patience, determination and perseverance. We also recognise the efforts of national and local leaders in maintaining peace while the political process is moving forward. All of our support is to help Filipinos in Muslim Mindanao who have for too long lived with conflict and fear.
The road to lasting peace is a long one. It’s important to stay the course; even when the road is rocky. The international community is a staunch supporter of the process towards lasting peace, a process which will allow increased development in Mindanao and the Philippines as a whole.
Allow me to make an analogy between the days of Ramadan and the peace process. The days of reflection, prayer and fasting may be likened to the groundwork of the panels and the multitude of their supporters, while the Iftar at the end of each day may be likened to the milestones that have been achieved so far: the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the four annexes, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Now, we are not yet at Idl Fitr as the journey is not yet done. The next Iftar will be a Basic Law that reflects the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement and respects the aspirations of the tri-people of Muslim Mindanao – the Muslims, Christians and Lumads. There is still so much work to be done, with many hurdles to overcome. But we cannot back away now.
Rest assured that Australia is with you for the long-haul. Insha’Allah just and lasting peace and prosperity will be at hand soon.
Again, Ramadan kareem! Ramadan Mubarak! (Have a blessed and generous Ramadan!)
Maraming salamat po.