Address by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Awarding of INTERFET Medals
Camp Gen Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City
10 December 2015
- General Hernando DCA Iriberri, Chief of Staff Armed Forces of the Philippines
- Rear Admiral Alan B Rosal, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, J1
- Officers and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines
- Former members of the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor
- Other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.
It is my great pleasure to stand before you today to formally recognise the deeds of former members of the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor for their service to the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) between 25 September 1999 and 23 February 2000.
INTERFET was a multinational peacekeeping taskforce, organised and led by Australia, in accordance with United Nations resolutions, to address the humanitarian and security crisis which took place in East Timor from 1999 until the arrival of UN peacekeepers in 2000.
INTERFET was commanded by then Australian Major General Peter Cosgrove, now His Excellency General Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor General of Australia.
Although 15 years have passed since the last Filipino contingent member departed East Timor, I hope that today’s ceremony is a reminder to us all of the significant contribution that the Philippines has made, not only to INTERFET but to numerous United Nations Missions around the world.
To support INTERFET, the Republic of the Philippines deployed the Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor, known as PhilHSMET, to provide humanitarian assistance through engineering and rehabilitation work, medical and dental services, and training and capability building for the East Timorese.
The contingent was tasked with providing humanitarian assistance by implementing a Civil Military Operations strategy – of networking and collaborating with non-government organisations.
The first contingent comprised 112 officers and enlisted personnel, under the command of Colonel Felix Cabreros. After a week’s preparation in Darwin, it deployed to Baucau on 25 September 1999 and operated in the districts of Baucau, Lautem and Viqueque.
It was joined two days later by the second contingent of 119 officers and enlisted personnel, commanded by Colonel Jose Zurbito. Meanwhile, Colonel Orlando Ambrosio commanded the Philippine Staff to the INTERFET Command Group.
On 16 October 1999, PhilHSMET re-deployed to Manatuto, in Area of Operations ‘Bastion’.
The third contingent of 304 officers and enlisted personnel deployed to East Timor on 9 November 1999, under the command of Colonel Henry Cinco, and continued to serve in the Manatuto district.
On 23 February 2000, the UNTAET (United Nationals Transitional Administration in East Timor) Peacekeeping Force assumed control of military operations from INTERFET, and from this date the Philippine contingent formed a standard infantry battalion, known as the Philippine Battalion or PHILBATT.
A total of 537 Filipino officers and enlisted personnel served with the three PhilHSMET contingents.
At its peak, INTERFET had a troop strength of close to 10,000 personnel, drawn from 22 nations.
Over 5,500 Australians served in East Timor alongside their multi-national partners and Filipino comrades. This was not the first time our troops had served together, nor would it be the last.
In 1944, over 4000 Australians participated in the allied Liberation of the Philippines and in 2013 we returned with over 500 troops, aircraft and ship to work “Bayanihan” shoulder to shoulder with our Filipino brothers and sisters after Typhoon Yolanda.
As the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines today’s medal presentation is one of the last official duties that I will perform before returning to Australia next month after four years in Manila.
During APEC Leaders’ Week, your President and our Prime Minister signed a Comprehensive Partnership between our two countries. Our defence relationship is central to - the “jewel in the crown” in fact of - the bilateral relationship, and therefore central to the Comprehensive Partnership.
I thank the Chief of Staff, General Iriberri, and his predecessors, General Catapang and General Bautista for their outstanding leadership and support for the Philippine–Australia defence relationship. I am especially proud to say that the Chief of Staff and his immediate predecessor – and others present today – are both Alumni of Australian Military Training, with General Iriberri having graduated from the inaugural Australian Command and Staff College at Weston Creek, Canberra, in 2001.