Speech by Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO
Philippines Australia Friendship Day Reception, 24 May 2019
Marco Polo Hotel, Cebu City
Maayong Gabii ug Malipayong Philippines Australia Friendship Day.
Thank you for joining us as we celebrate Philippines Australia Friendship Day.
I arrived in the Philippines in January this year, and I’m pleased to say that this is already my second visit to the Queen City of the South. While it might take me a few more visits to perfect my Cebuano language skills – I have certainly already gained a fantastic impression of the dynamism of the business community here in Cebu, the passion of civil society groups, and the seriousness of your political tussles.
While I won’t stray into politics, I would like to congratulate the Philippines for managing the extensive mid-term elections. The campaigning and high voter turnout are a testament to Philippines’ vibrant democracy.
Although this is the first time I have lived in the Philippines on a long-term basis, I have been coming to this beautiful country since I was a university student.
I first visited the Philippines nearly 40 years ago. At that time I was struck by the country’s natural beauty. I experienced the warmth of the Filipino people and felt the dynamic energy, including during my stay then in Cebu.
It seized my attention and I have returned many times over the intervening years.
So it is a great honour and a privilege to return here now as Australia’s Ambassador to the Philippines.
My positive early impressions as Ambassador reinforce many of the positive experiences of my student years - some things don’t change.
However, one thing that has developed and matured over time is the strength of the relationship between our countries. As we head towards 75 years of formal diplomatic ties (which we will mark in 2021), Australia and the Philippines share a relationship which is both broad and deep.
There’s an old saying in diplomacy that countries don’t have friends, only interests. But in the 21st century, Australia knows that we are stronger when we work with our trusted friends. We can’t realise our goals for peaceful, safe and more prosperous lives for people in the Asia-Pacific region without our friends.
We are lucky that the Philippines counts Australia among its closest friendships – marked by ‘Philippines-Australia Friendship Day’ every 22nd of May.
Our friendship starts with the deep bonds between our people. Everywhere I travel around this remarkable country, Filipinos tell me stories of their connections with Australia. I’ve met so many people who’ve studied in Australia or who have family or friends now living there.
People like Cebu’s own Anya Lim who earned her Masters in Communications for Social Change from the University of Queensland and who now works to preserve and promote weaving traditions through her social enterprise Anthill Fabric Gallery right here in Cebu.
Or a fellow Visayan, Dr Rene Abesamis, from Silliman University, whose scientific research in Australia focused on how marine protected areas can help restore coral reef biodiversity and rebuild and sustain fisheries.
Many of you are more familiar with hugely popular Australian-born artists like Anne and Jasmine Curtis. And of course, another famous Filipino-Australian, Miss Universe, Catriona Gray. These people are notable but they also represent stories of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are part of the modern Australian story. It began with men from the Visayas who migrated to Australia in the 1800s to join the pearling industry. And it continues in modern times.
I’m delighted to bring our Friendship Day celebrations to Cebu this year. I’ve had a chance to meet some of you here this evening at some of today’s Friendship Day activities.
From the dedicated team from Philippine Accessible Disability Services who took me dragon boat racing this morning, to FundLife – a group that uses football to help girls reach their potential in education and in life, as well as som ‘top notchers’ from Cebu Normal University who are part of 1000 graduates of a Philippines-Australia teacher quality program.
I also want to acknowledge our friends at the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry who helped us bring together experts and business people from both our countries to look at new ways to use commerce, science and technology. Australia and the Philippines are natural partners to embrace the opportunities of innovation together.
I’m looking forward to many conversations this evening, over some Australian wine and food.
There’s more opportunities to celebrate our friendship tomorrow as well. At the Ayala Center you can take in a retail, education and travel fair. In the afternoon Cebu’s young and stylish will walk the runway for an Australian fashion parade, and we’re capping off the fun with a free concert by home-grown talent Sepia Times, and screening of Paper Planes, a feel good Australian movie.
I’m sure you agree with me that our activities in Cebu are connecting innovators, leaders, thinkers and social change makers like yourselves. It takes the friendships we enjoy today to build relationships for long into the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my honour to now to invite you to raise your glasses in a toast:
· To his Excellency President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
· To the Health and Prosperity of the Filipino people
· And to the enduring friendship between Australia and the Philippines
Malipayong Friendship Day!