Philippine National Day Diplomatic Reception highlights stronger relations and greater connectivity between Philippines and New Zealand
A diplomatic reception celebrating the 117th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence was hosted by Philippine Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and attended by around six hundred guests from the Diplomatic Corps, New Zealand Government Officials, Members of Parliament, Police Officials, business sector, academe, non-governmental organizations, media, churches, various organizations and associations, members of the Filipino community and distinguished guests at the Pipitea Marae in Thorndon Quay, Wellington, on 17 June 2015. Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Minister for Corrections, Pacific Peoples and Ethnic Communities, was the guest of honour and represented the Government of New Zealand. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez also acknowledged the presence of Minister Michael Woodhouse, Minister for Immigration and Police.
In her speech, Ambassador Benavidez thanked Minister Lotu-Iiga for gracing the celebration, recalled the heroic sacrifices and lasting legacy of the country’s forefathers 117 years ago to win the Philippines’ rightful place in the community of nations, and described the transformative continued growth story of the Philippines written on the tablet of transparency and good governance - all in the pursuit of inclusive growth, as embodied in this year's Independence Day theme, “Triumphs Through Reforms, Within Nation’s Reach.” She spoke about the depth of the institutionalization of good governance and political stability of the Philippines and the rise of the Philippines as “Asia’s New Emerging Tiger” ensuring that progress is inclusive and sustainable for Filipinos in the years ahead.
Ambassador Benavidez stated that the Philippines-New Zealand bilateral economic relationship and private sector engagements continue to make significant inroads with over 90 New Zealand companies doing business in the Philippines in the areas of renewable energy, dairy, ICT/BPO, mining, salmon processing, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, bio-technology, services, trade in other goods, tourism and immigration consultancy, education, cold storage, shipping (vessel) and ports infrastructure, aviation, construction, “weightless products” especially on telecommunications and information technology and software applications in the banking, medical, accountancy, among others. “Our deepening engagements and partnership in ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, APEC, ASEM, East Asia Summit, United Nations, Pacific Islands Forum, WTO, Southwest Pacific Dialogue, Asian Development Bank and other regional and international fora propel us towards our shared aspirations for collective stability, security, peace, progress and prosperity,” Ambassador Benavidez said.
Ambassador Benavidez also spoke of the transformation of ASEAN into One Community with One Vision: a people driven, a people centered, inclusive and progressive ASEAN, as well as the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-New Zealand relations. With New Zealand being one of ASEAN’s earliest dialogue partner “the linkages between ASEAN and New Zealand are wide-ranging, including not only education and defence, but also science and technology, agricultural cooperation, disaster preparedness and in the context of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement as well as strong people-to-people ties forged by young business leaders interaction, students exchange and scholarship programmes, migration and tourism. The Philippines looks forward to the ASEAN-New Zealand Commemorative Summit in Malaysia this November, another significant milestone in the broadening and deepening of partnership in strengthened and future areas of cooperation and support for ASEAN’s post 2015 vision.”
Ambassador Benavidez also highlighted the Philippines’ hosting of APEC 2015. Under the Philippine’s Chairmanship, the APEC 2015 theme “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World” emphasizes the paramount importance of the promotion and advancement of inclusive growth in the Asia-Pacific region where no one should be left behind. Notable APEC Meetings happening in the Philippines include the APEC Ministerial Meeting and APEC CEO Summit in 16 November 2015, APEC Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) Summit in 17 November 2015, and the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM) and ABAC (APEC Business Advisory Council) Dialogue with Leaders in 18 November 2015. New Zealand continues to be among the key drivers for shared development and the promotion and advancement of inclusive growth in the Asia Pacific region. Ministers, senior officials, private sector representatives, media and various stakeholders “continue to map out initiatives, policies and capacity building programs that advance APEC’s goals of trade liberalization, business facilitation and economic cooperation and to show how we are building inclusive economies and thus building a better world. Prime Minister John Key and the leaders of the 21 other APEC economies are expected to attend the APEC Leaders Meeting in Manila in November where they will see for themselves an archipelago connected through a web of inclusiveness and encounter our greatest resource: our people who are kind, compassionate, smiling, welcoming and talented beyond measure.”
More than 40,000 Filipinos comprising 1% of New Zealand’s population and the 3rd largest group of skilled migrants have made New Zealand their second home. Their contributions to New Zealand’s economy especially in the health care, information technology, engineering, dairy, Christchurch rebuild and reconstruction, government, manufacturing, education, business, hospitality services and other sectors are well known, widely acknowledged and deeply appreciated. “The leaders of New Zealand highlight the fact that ours is a people based relationship and that the close friendship we enjoy is underpinned by the contributions of the Filipino community to New Zealand life,” Ambassador Benavidez further stated in her speech.
“The Philippines and New Zealand have done a lot together in 49 years… our futures are woven with each other,” Ambassador Benavidez said. She shared a Maori saying which aptly states, “Tuitui Tangata, Tuitui Korowai” (Bringing people together is like weaving a korowai cloak, a symbol of mana and respect. It takes valuable time and great skill in weaving it, just like building enduring and harmonious relationships). Then she invited everyone to join her in a toast to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of New Zealand, to the continued success of the Government and People of New Zealand, and to the enduring friendship between the Philippines and New Zealand.
In his speech, Minister Lotu-Iiga responded cordially, saying that seeing everyone at the event that evening reminded him that it is “people who are at the heart of the positive and healthy relationship between New Zealand and the Philippines.” He was pleased to note the substantial outreach Ambassador Benavidez and the Philippine Embassy have undertaken throughout New Zealand in support of the Filipino community. “We are all invested in ensuring that the experience of all overseas Filipino workers and indeed all migrant workers in New Zealand is always positive. New Zealand takes its responsibility seriously,” Minister Lotu-Iiga said.
Minister Lotu-Iiga briefly enumerated that New Zealand-Philippines trade relations are growing with two-way trade in goods and services worth more than $1 billion, that the Philippines is resurgent having the second fastest growing economy in Asia last year, that travel in both directions last year has increased with around 12,000 Filipinos visiting New Zealand and more than 20,000 New Zealand residents travelling to the Philippines, and that there is an increasing demand to improve air links, expanding access and incentives for airlines to fly between the two countries. Further, he mentioned the celebration of 40 years of dialogue partnership this year between New Zealand and the ASEAN, of which the Philippines is a founding member, the visit of Prime Minister John Key and a number of ministers and officials to the Philippines this year to attend the APEC Leaders’ Meeting which the Philippines is hosting, and the celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and the Philippines in 2016. “All of these developments contribute to the rich cooperation between New Zealand and the Philippines, as we weave a common future in the Asia-Pacific region,” Minister Lotu-Iiga said. In recognition of New Zealand’s and the Philippines’ longstanding and growing friendship, Minister Lotu-Iiga proposed a toast to His Excellency President Benigno S Aquino III, and to the Government, the representatives, and the people of the Republic of the Philippines.
The Wellington Filipino Community Choir warmly welcomed the guests with a rendition of “We Say Mabuhay” and a medley of Filipino songs. The National Anthems of New Zealand and the Philippines were beautifully rendered by the Loboc Children’s Choir (LCC). For this year’s Independence Day celebration, the highly acclaimed, nationally and internationally famous and award winning LCC from Bohol, Philippines presented enthralling and touching performances which were much appreciated by the guests. They were unanimous in stating that the celebration was truly an evening to remember and one to be proud of – a heart-warming tribute to nationhood, an excellent testimony to the enduring friendship and partnership between the Philippines and New Zealand and an amazing showcase of Filipino culture, talent and artistry.
In her letter to Ambassador Benavidez, H.E. O’Love Jacobsen, High Commissioner of Niue and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, extended her sincere appreciation for “an evening of enjoyment and display of the true Philippine ‘Mabuhay’ spirit.” She added that the Ambassador Benavidez’s “remarks echoed respect for the strength and success of your nation. The colour, splendour and beauty of the men and women in traditional and national dress was pleasant to behold.” She also commended the performances and stated “the community choir warmed our hearts as we entered but the evening was stolen with woos, wows and standing ovations to the performance of the Loboc Children’s Choir. Just simply the best.” She reiterated her thanks to “your people, your staff and yourself for the work of the hands and willing hearts to raise the good name of your country. I salute you all.”