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Highlights of Australian Embassy Virtual Media Briefing 2021

by Marcelle P. Villegas - May 28, 2021

23 May 2021: In celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Philippine-Australia Diplomatic Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. and H.E. Steven J. Robinson AO, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, witnessed the commemorative lighting of the iconic SM Mall of Asia (MoA) Globe with the commemorative logo and images of Australians and Filipinos showing mateship and bayanihan. This event is one of the highlights of the year-long anniversary commemoration in the Philippines and Australia. [Photo credit: Australian Embassy in the Philippines]

Every year, the Australian Embassy in the Philippines hosts the Annual Journalists’ Reception in Makati with the purpose of bringing together the Australian companies in the Philippines and the local journalists in a business briefing.

Last year’s Journalists’ Reception was cancelled due to the sudden nationwide lockdown as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However this year, the month of May had a good start with the launch of their first Australian Embassy Virtual Media Briefing last May 3rd.  

The briefing was led by Christopher Lim, Senior Trade and Industry Commissioner of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines. Representatives of the Australian businesses provided reports and updates of their industries’ development, latest projects and trends. For this, they had two speakers, namely: Dave Shiner, Regional Director – Asia for Austal; and J.V. Emmanuel A. “Jocot” De Dios, Chief Executive Officer of Prime Metro BMD.

Members of the Philippine press also had a Q&A session with the Australian Ambassador.

His Excellency Steven J. Robinson AO, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, gave an inspiring speech that focused on the shared values and history of Australia and the Philippines. He covered the topics on Australia’s support for the Philippine’s sectors in agriculture, food industry, education, infrastructure, finance, defence, COVID-19 vaccine supply, disaster preparedness program, and more.

He said, “Over the past several decades, we have witnessed the bond between Australia and the Philippines grow stronger and develop into an enduring friendship. We launched the 75th Anniversary celebration on Australia Day in January including the unveiling of the commemorative website mateshipandbayanihan.com.”  The special website of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines contains stories of friendship and partnership over the years.

Last May 22nd and 23rd was Philippines-Australia Friendship Day. “Now, we are very pleased to be one of only five countries with an annual friendship day celebration, in our case set by Presidential Proclamation 1282. The Embassy aims to bring the celebration around the Philippines to a different city each year.”

Due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 community quarantine rules, the Australian Embassy launched some online programmes to reach out to everyone across the Philippines. The Embassy hosted an online “Stream and Sip” festival highlighting Australian films, music and food last 22nd and 23rd of May. They also featured Australian Music on Spotify and Australian films on Netflix.

During the briefing, the Ambassador also expressed his admiration to the Filipino people for their fortitude throughout the lockdowns. He mentioned that Australia has committed 500 million Australian dollars to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and to promote health security in the Indo-Pacific, including in the Philippines.

“Australia is committed to providing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for the Pacific and Southeast Asia, including through contributing 80 million AUD to the COVAX Facility Advanced Market Commitment to deliver vaccines to the most vulnerable.”

“As vice-chair of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance Board, Australia successfully advocated for the Philippines to be eligible for COVAX AMC doses, and has advocated for the earliest possible access for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. So, we are pleased that the Philippines has received two shipments totaling 525,600 doses through the COVAX Facility. Now, this is the second highest number of doses delivered in Southeast Asia.”

Moreover, he discussed about the development cooperation program of the Australian Government for the Philippines. “And I am also really pleased that Australia was able to redirect our 80 million dollar development cooperation program to reinforce the Philippine response to the pandemic. In fact, Australia’s development program in the Philippines is one of our largest in the world. Our development partnership is focused on achieving a more prosperous, stable, and resilient Philippines.”

The Ambassador stressed that while trade is an important factor to develop, economic growth is vital as well to creating sustainable prosperity. “There are encouraging signs, for example, in our commercial ties even through the pandemic. As you know, there are over 300 Australian companies employing 44,000 Filipinos operating here in the Philippines, mainly in business processing outsourcing area (BPOs), mining and services sectors.”

He further enumerated on his speech the various infrastructure projects of Australian companies in the Philippines. “And it may interest you to know that Australian companies have been responsible for major developments in the Philippines including the interior design of the new terminal at the Clark International Airport as well as designing the Philippine Arena and that was a company by the name of Populous; the construction of the four-lane Cavite-Laguna Expressway that was done by Leighton Asia; the engineering and architecture for the Manila Clark Railway Project, North South Railway Project, Now that was done by SMEC. The value engineering design for the NLEX and the SLEX Connector Road Project, that was also done by SMEC. And the detailed design for the New Government Administrative Center in New Clark City; tunnelling for New Clark City as well, also done by BMD Construction; and providing advice to most PPP transactions in the Philippines, now that’s Macquarie Capital.”

Additionally, he mentioned other Australian companies here in the Philippines such as: Austal, a world-class ship builder; Crone which provides world-class architectural services; Prime BMD, experts in engineering services and project management; Qantas which connects people to Australia; Site Skills in Clark which supports Philippine skills development; Telstra, provider of first class global telecommunications; QBE, one of the world’s top insurance companies, and Orica, known for its world class mining operation.

During the Q&A portion of the briefing, Business Mirror and Philippine Resources Journal both asked the Ambassador about his views on the Philippine mining industry, particularly on the Philippine Government’s lifting of the 9-year moratorium on new mining agreements.

He replied, “So we think that the lifting of the ban is a really positive step forward for the Philippines because we think that the mining industry, done responsibly, using firms that have the most modern equipment, the most modern techniques that subscribe to world’s standards of mining, can really benefit the Philippines. The Philippines is a natural resource-rich country, and there’s much that could be done here that would really benefit the Philippines’ recovery.”

“And Australian firms know that the miners that we already have here - Orica, Oceana Gold, Red Nine - there’s a number of them -- They’re already thinking about what does the future hold for them as a result of that ban being lifted, and they’ve started to reach out to us just in recent times to express interest in mining across the Philippines. So I think that was a very, very positive step for the Philippines and good for Australian mining here, in cooperation and partnership with the Philippines. So, I’m very optimistic about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years about mining, and Australian mining here in the Philippines.”

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The issue on defence and maritime border protection were some of the major topics discussed during the briefing. The Ambassador said, “Through the Australia-Philippines Defence Cooperation Program, Australia is the Philippines’ second largest counter-terrorism and defence cooperation partner. Australia and the Philippines have a long history of Defence Cooperation that dates back to World War II. 4,000 Australians fought here during WW2 of which 92 died.”

“We have had an MOU on Defence cooperation since 1995 and the SOVFA was enacted in September 2012.”

“Though limited by COVID, we continue to cooperate and with strong focus on education and training both in the Philippines and in Australia with an emphasis on counter-terrorism, in the aftermath of the Marawi siege.”

“We will continue to work closely with the Philippine Government to address the ongoing threat of terrorism. We also support modernisation efforts and maritime security engagement. Our defence program is also active in the humanitarian space – from assisting with the post-Haiyan typhoon response to most recently with a 3 million dollar, that’s Australian Dollars that we’ve donated to AFP hospital system to assist COVID-19 relief efforts.”

“We also cooperate in the areas of aviation and maritime security, as well as border protection. For both our countries, secure and reliable transportation networks are crucial in helping business and people trade and travel safely. Our Aviation and Maritime Security Division collaborates with the Philippines to improve transport security and enhance operational efficiency. We do this together by improving compliance with international standards and exchange views on transport security best practice.”

“Australia’s expanded engagement on maritime cooperation with the Philippines will be a key element of our commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of bilateral relations this year, through a new Philippine Civil Maritime Security Program (PCMSP) which aims to support the Philippines to strengthen its civil maritime security. Australia supports the adherence to international law, particularly UNCLOS, and other norms and laws that govern our international waterways.”

He stated that their civil maritime cooperation will focus on:

  • Maritime governance systems, processes, and interagency coordination.
  • Maritime or Marine natural resources management and environment protection.
  • Technical assistance, research, and workshops.

“And through this program, the Australian Embassy intends to work with several government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police – Maritime Group, and National Coast Watch Council.”

- - -

Mateship and Bayanihan are shared values of Australia and the Philippines. The two countries have a long history of partnership and friendship that dates back even during the Spanish colonial times in the Philippines. Their diplomatic bond was tested and strengthened during World War II in the Pacific.

One remarkable part of their shared history dates back in the late 1800s when Australia opened its doors to migrant Filipino workers to support the pearling industry in Northern Australia. These Filipinos were called the “Manila Men” and they worked as pearl divers. These Filipino migrant workers played an important role in the development of the pearl, trochus and beche-de-mer (processed sea cucumbers) industries in Northern Australia. A large number of indigenous Australians are descendants of these Manila Men. [1]

Other than shared values and history, the Australia-Philippine relations include political, economic, development, defence, security and cultural relations. Australia has an embassy in Manila while the Philippines has an embassy in Canberra and a consulate general in Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. [2]

Australia’s first Consulate General in Manila was founded on 22nd of May 1946. There are over 250,000 people of Filipino heritage living in the Australia, and there are more than 10,000 Filipino students enrolled in Australian universities and vocational institutions. [3]

In celebration of Friendship Day last May 22, the Ambassador launched an online campaign to inspire people across the Philippines to join the celebration by sharing their stories of friendship. “This month of May, I invite everyone to join the celebration on social media by reflecting on our deep relationship and sending messages of friendship using the hashtag #mateshipandbayanihan and #FilAussieDay.” [4]

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Acknowledgment:

Thank you, Australian Embassy in the Philippines.

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References:

[1] https://philippines.embassy.gov.au/mnla/medrel161018.html

[2] https://www.escapemanila.com/2021/02/philippine-embassy-consulate-australia.html

[3] https://philippines.embassy.gov.au/mnla/relations.html#:~:text=Formal%20relations%20commenced%20with%20the,in%20Manila%20in%20May%201946.

[4] https://mateshipandbayanihan.com/media-statements/dfa-and-australian-embassy-light-up-manila-for-75th-anniversary-of-diplomatic-relations/


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