[VIDEO -More than a thousand Filipinos living and working in Australia warmly welcomed President Benigno S. Aquino III on his last day of visit in the country. In a meeting with the Filipino community held at John Therry Catholic High School in Rosemeadow, Campbelltown City, the President cited various developments in the Philippine economy and government. He told the Filipino community here that those positive changes became possible through the help and support of each and every Filipino abroad. He reassured that his administration will continue to do what is best for the country until it achieves full progress and growth. There are a total of 224,732 Filipinos in Australia according to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The community is one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in New South Wales. Mostly reside in 38 cities and urban areas in NSW. The Philippines currently ranks as the fourth largest source of skilled migrants in Australia.]


[PHOTO -President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III, left, shares a laugh with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia Wednesday. AP PHOTO]

MANILA, OCTOBER 29, 2012 (OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE PHL) Remarks of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III President of the Philippines At the lunch hosted by Premier Barry O’Farrell [Delivered at Strangers Dining Room, Parliament House, Sydney, Australia, on October 25, 2012]

Thank you. Good noon.

Honorable Barry O’Farrell, Premier of New South Wales; Honorable Christopher Hartcher, Minister for Resources; Honorable Gregory Pearce; Honorable Victor Dominello; Honarable Don Harwin; Secretary Albert del Rosario; Ambassador William Twedell; Ambassador Belen Anota; other members of the cabinets present; Consul General; Mr. John Robertson; members of the Parliament; members of the Philippine and Australian business delegations; honored guests:

Before I begin with the formal speech—and I apologize to those who have heard it last night, but I think it bears repeating—Australia really has a special place in my heart. And I’m not talking about MacArthur’s visit here; I was a bit too young at that time. [Laughter] But during the Martial Law years—the start of the Martial Law years—members of our household staff were not spared of the horrors of Martial Law.

Some of them are picked up arbitrarily, not through virtue of a warrant of arrest signed by a competent court, but merely the say-so of the Martial Law administration. And one of them was being—well, most of those who were picked up were being forced to turn and give false witness against my father.

Some of them were no longer in our employment having gotten married. And, one of them in particular disappeared at the start of Martial Law, returns to our household wearing sunglasses because underneath, his eyes are so puffed up, his cheeks are so swollen, and he had—I think if at all—three pieces of his teeth remaining because of the beatings that he suffered under the tortures of the Martial Law regime.

And, why did I mention this? There was talk and there was fear that if he refused to turn witness against my father, he would eventually be killed. And unfortunately, the Martial Law regime actually coined the phrase called “salvaging” when they want to have enforced disappearances or extrajudicial killing.

And the connection with Australia is this: My parents had a very good and dear Australian friend. He cooperated, conspired with my mother to finally smuggle this person out of the country. And, as a very young kid, I do recall going to the airport not meeting anybody, not sending anybody off, looking at this plane, and ensuring that this person did manage to leave the country. He stayed there for a few years; moved on to America and is still alive at this present time. If it were not of this Australian friend, he would have been perhaps not be with us this day.

Now, I do mention this also because when Martial Law was proclaimed, it seemed the world had turned upside down. My father was thought of have been one of two potential candidates of the Liberal Party to run for presidency—and at that time, there were only two parties in the country.

Since Marcos was turning to be the most unpopular leader around, chances are the president in 1973 would have been from our party. But from being one of the top contenders for the top post in the country, he became number one on the order of battle of Martial Law, and nobody wanted to be associated with us when Martial Law was proclaimed.

There were instances when people would cross the street to avoid being with my mother or being seen with my mother—or even being suspected to having talked to any of us. Those were days when loyal friends suddenly were very sparse, but our Australian friends throughout the whole period of Martial Law were a constant source of support and nurturing.

Hence, I was part of the excitement of coming here—it was in a in a sense—to see a land that really nurtured people who are not afraid to fight for that which is right not only during our Martial Law period but also during the time of World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam, and so on.

Mr. Premier, allow me to thank you therefore and the people of New South Wales for this very, very warm welcome. This is my first ever visit to Australia, and to Sydney; and it is truly a remarkable experience being in the city of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the various landmarks that make this, the most populous city in Australia, a global tourist destination. I understand it is also home to approximately half of the Filipino-Australian Community who I understand, when you mentioned, being noisy at times—but that seems to be a trait. [Laughter]

The friendship between Australia and the Philippines is nothing short of historic. Our countries are firm believers in democracy; our respective peoples cherish the same values of kindness, hospitality, and compassion; historically, we have been willing to be comrades-in-arms, in defense of freedom.

As I already mentioned, during World War II, even as Bataan and Corregidor underwent their agony at the hands of the Axis Forces, our government initially found refuge in your shores, the same shores from which the Allied Forces began their sacrifice-filled war of liberation and democratic redemption. In the Korean War, our countries fought side-by-side, this time, in the Republic of Korea, and again for democracy.

Here, too, my compatriots have built new and prosperous lives. At present, I’m told, more than 220,000 Australians can claim Filipino ancestry, of which more than 90,000 reside here in New South Wales. Seventy-seven percent of these Filipino-Australians work as accountants, software and applications programmers, nurses, and doctors. They also help build the infrastructure backbone of Australia as engineers and miners, constructions workers, welders, and motor mechanics.

During this visit, we are being given the chance to further deepen our relationship, and I am grateful for that. I see concrete areas where our countries can create new partnerships or expand existing ones, such as in infrastructure, business process outsourcing, and the extractive industries.

I am certain that our shared values and beliefs will lead us to a future where the relationship between our countries will grow even stronger, to the mutual benefit of both Australians and Filipinos.

And before I end: Sometimes being the chief executive of any entity, in my case—of a country—it really does become lonely at the top. There are days when you look at the newspapers and read the news, or read analyses, and wonder, “How do we actually chart our course through these very nervous times.” At the end of the day, I comfort myself that, you know, we need not travel this road alone. There will be friends. There will be allies, and in Australia and Australians, we have found long-committed allies and we thank you for it.

Thank you.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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