Views from Down Under by Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely
People consistently recommend to me that I should travel as much as possible in the Philippines and my list of must see places just keeps getting longer and longer. It’s true of most places that you have to leave the bubble of the capital to fully appreciate the rich diversity of the country.
In recent weeks I have visited the Philippines’ second and third largest cities, Cebu and Davao. The primary purpose of the visits was to launch the “Celebrate Australia 2016: Say G’Day” photographic exhibition to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between Australia and the Philippines. As is evident from the exhibition, the history of collaboration between Australia and the Philippines extends well beyond Luzon to Mindanao and the Visayas.
In both Cebu and Davao I attended a reunion of Filipino alumni who studied at Australian universities, many of them on Australia Award scholarships. It was great to hear their tales of time spent in Australia and the friendships and camaraderie that they have continued to develop well after their studies have concluded. Many of these people are now in positions of influence in the public and private sector and a lot are doing valuable work in their communities. There are now around 10,000 Filipino students studying in Australia so I expect our alumni network to continue to prosper. An increasing number of Filipinos are also acquiring Australian qualifications at Philippine vocational institutions, such as the culinary courses at IChef in Davao (whose Melbourne trained barista made the best coffee ever!).
I was also struck by the growing Australian business presence in Cebu and the potential for growth in Davao. A number of Australian companies have set up business process outsourcing centres in Cebu providing employment to many Filipinos, mostly young people. The employees I spoke to said they liked working for Australian companies because the similar time zone meant that they could work regular daytime hours instead of night shifts, meaning more quality time with their families.
From Cebu, I took a trip over the hills to Balamban, to visit Austal Philippines. This Australian company opened its Philippine manufacturing site in 2013 and it is now the centre for Austal’s global commercial ship building operations. This significant investment has had a very positive impact on the local economy and there is further expansion in progress.
All of the Australian companies I have visited in the Philippines have very active community programs providing both time and money to support those in need. The local employees are at the forefront of these initiatives deciding where they want the company to direct its efforts and volunteering their time.
As I’ve travelled around the country, I’ve seen the impact of the El Niño weather pattern – it hasn’t rained in Manila since I arrived here. Australians are no strangers to drought and the terrible impact it can have on the agricultural sector.
Australia has a long history of collaboration with the Philippines on agricultural research which I saw firsthand in Davao. I had the pleasure of visiting the University of the Southern Philippines to see the joint research project with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) on banana and mango cultivation. ACIAR has been supporting agricultural research in the Philippines since 1983. This work in Mindanao is providing critical scientific information to improve yields and disease resistance and to enhance the competitiveness and livelihoods of banana and mango farmers.
I know I barely scratched the surface in Cebu and Davao but I feel I know a little bit more about the Philippines. There is much more to see and do, especially to experience some of the recreational pursuits and beautiful scenery. I hope to get back to both cities again soon!