Australia and the Philippines: Friendship and Solidarity
by Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Australia Day means many things to different Australians.
For some, it is the day when they make a public commitment to Australia in the citizenship ceremonies which take place across the country.
For others it is a day for reflection on what Australia has achieved, on the Australian way of life, and on our hard fought traditions of democracy, fairness, equity and individual opportunity.
2015 will be the fourth year I have been in the Philippines to celebrate Australia Day, and it is timely to reflect on what it means to be the Australian Ambassador in the Philippines.
Many readers may have heard of the Australian concept of mateship – or perhaps as it is known locally – bayanihan.
While mateship is often hard to define it can include notions of friendship and solidarity.
I would like to think that Australia’s relationship with the Philippines is grounded in those key elements of friendship and solidarity.
The friendship between the Philippines and Australia is being strengthened at both the government-to-government and people-to-people levels.
As one important manifestation of this trend, during the past twelve months there have been a number of high-level visitors from Australia: the Foreign Minister, Ms Julie Bishop, the Trade and Investment Minister, Mr Andrew Robb, the Environment Minister, Mr Greg Hunt and a multi-party Parliamentary delegation.
All have experienced the hospitality of their Filipino hosts. Their visits underlined Australia’s desire to deepen the relationship with the Philippines and exposed senior Australians to just how strong the potential is to expand relations even further.
Our people-to-people links will be bolstered in 2015 as we welcome the commencement of the New Colombo Plan in the Philippines.
The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian Government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.
It will encourage a two-way flow of students with the region, complementing the thousands of students from the region, including the Philippines, coming to Australia to study each year.
The past twelve months have also reinforced to me the solidarity between Australia and the Philippines.
In response to the loss of life and damage to infrastructure due to Typhoon Ruby, the Australian Government, through the United Nationals Population Fund and the Philippine Red Cross, was able to provide health and dignity kits to women and family survival kits to those in affected regions.
This was in addition to the provision, through the World Food Programme, of 800 tonnes of rice which was distributed to 40,000 affected families.
In October, I had the privilege of unveiling a memorial in Palo, Leyte to honour the 92 Australians who gave their lives during the liberation of the Philippines in the Second World War.
The monument stands close to the site where General Douglas MacArthur first stepped ashore after leading the advance from Australia, and helped to mark the 70th anniversary of the Leyte Landings.
It was for me a sombre reminder of the role of over 4,000 Australian personnel who fought alongside their Philippine and Allied counterparts during World War Two to help liberate the Philippines.
In 2015 Australians around the globe will commemorate the Centenary of Anzac – 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War.
But we will also commemorate one hundred years of service and sacrifice by Australia servicemen and women, including those who helped forge the bonds of solidarity in the Philippines.
Looking forward, 2015 will be an important year for the Philippines as APEC host.
Australians look forward to working closely with our Filipino mates to make this important regional event a great success.
So on this Australia Day we not only celebrate our national day, we celebrate the nature of our enduring relationship with the Philippines – through friendship and solidarity.
Happy Australia Day!