Philippine National Day Diplomatic Reception highlights closeness of Bilateral Relations and Vibrancy of Filipino Culture in Wellington, New Zealand
A diplomatic reception celebrating the 116th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence was hosted by Philippine Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and attended by nearly four hundred guests from the Diplomatic Corps, Government of New Zealand, Members of Parliament, business sector, academe, churches, various organizations and associations, members of the Filipino community and distinguished guests at Old St. Paul’s, the historic and iconic landmark in Wellington, on 19 June 2014. Minister Chester Borrows, Minister for Courts was the guest of honour and represented the Government of New Zealand. In his speech, Minister Borrows stated that the relationship of New Zealand and the Philippines “is warm and long-standing” and “has witnessed a significant increase in engagement over the last several years”. He pointed out that “with interpersonal links, an important trade relationship and growing education, aviation, and labour links, there’s no doubt that the relationship holds much potential for growth”. Minister Borrows highlighted that in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in November of 2013, “the hearts of New Zealanders from all walks of life went out to the people of the Philippines” and “New Zealand was one of the many countries to offer help – in the form of a C-130 Hercules to help airlift critical supplies to devastated and isolated regions” with a “pledge of just over $5 million dollars to the relief effort – a scale of New Zealand response usually seen only in the South Pacific”. He stated that New Zealand now hopes to make an effective contribution beyond relief into the recovery phase. Minister Borrows pointed out that the two countries’ “trade relationship has long been an important cornerstone for New Zealand –Philippine relations” and “has potential to expand beyond a traditional focus on agricultural exports”. Minister Borrows emphasized that people-to-people “links are at the heart of our relationship” and that “New Zealand values these ties with Filipino migrants, who are making an important contribution in sectors with skills shortages, including in the dairy industry and the Christchurch rebuild.” He mentioned that the recent visit of the Honorable Tim Groser, Minister of Trade, to the Philippines with a business delegation of over 20 New Zealand businesses consisting of companies from sectors including dairy, ICT, aviation and renewable energy (geothermal) is proof that New Zealand is keen to meet the Philippines’ needs with its world class products and expertise. He stated that it is not only New Zealand’s and the Philippines’ bilateral connections which are strong but also New Zealand’s important ties to the Philippines through our linkages to the ASEAN region. He noted that the ASEAN “region is playing an increasingly important role in determining New Zealand’s economic fortunes, with ASEAN recently overtaking the EU as the largest trading bloc with which New Zealand does business” and that “the launch of the NZ Inc ASEAN Strategy last year in July by the Prime Minister reflects the government’s acknowledgement of the importance of this region to New Zealand’s future”. In recognition of New Zealand’s and the Philippines’ longstanding and growing friendship, Minister Borrows 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.
For her part, Ambassador Benavidez thanked Minister Borrows for gracing the celebration, reflected on the evolution of the history of the Filipino people with this year's Independence Day theme “Following the Footsteps of Great Filipinos Toward Permanent and Widespread Change”, highlighted the Philippines’ continued recognition as one of Asia’s newest economic success stories and fast growing market stars, and the current all-time high of the state of Philippines-New Zealand relations following the successful and productive State Visit of President Benigno S. Aquino III to New Zealand on 22-23 October 2012 and the exchanges of Ministerial and high level visits. As the Philippines rises above the terrible tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan, Ambassador Benavidez reiterated “our endless gratitude to the Government and People of New Zealand and our partner countries, donor agencies, the Filipino communities, non-government and international organizations for the unprecedented groundswell of generosity, support and assistance and continuing partnership in implementing collaborative and innovative programmes to effectively proceed with the rebuilding and reconstruction phase”. She stated that New Zealand and the Philippines have shared “forty seven years of close friendship and mutually beneficial partnership” and the two countries “are one in its shared adherence to democratic values and principles, good governance, rules based approaches, peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, peace building and respect for human rights in the face of challenges to our regional and global environment and security”. As she said, “New Zealand and the Philippines are stepping up cooperation in the priority areas of trade and tourism promotion, education, higher value knowledge processing in the ICT sector, renewable energy, dairy, environment, Christchurch rebuilding and reconstruction projects, disaster preparedness and mitigation among others”. Ambassador Benavidez shared that the first ever recent visit of Trade Minister Tim Groser to Manila accompanied by a business delegation from the food and beverage, dairy, aviation, ICT, manufacturing, infrastructure, geothermal energy and education sectors, spoke volumes on the compelling opportunities and business linkages between the Philippines and New Zealand. She noted that the two countries “growing economic relationship will enable us to continue playing to our strengths and synergy bilaterally and in the context of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA)”. She also emphasized that New Zealand is a much valued dialogue partner in ASEAN and our collaboration in 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 highlight our strong regional links. Home to more than 40,000 Filipinos, “the leaders of New Zealand highlight the fact that ours is a people based relationship and that the close friendship we enjoy are underpinned by the contributions of the Filipino community to New Zealand life”. The people based relationship between the Philippines and New Zealand showcases one of Ambassador Benavidez’s favourite Maori saying “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). Stating that the future of New Zealand and the Philipines are woven together, Ambassador Benavidez made a toast to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of New Zealand, the Government and People of New Zealand and the close ties and friendship between the Philippines and New Zealand.
The Philippine Baranggay Folk Dance Troupe (PBFDT) warmly welcomed the guests with their rendition of “We Say Mabuhay”. The National Anthems of New Zealand and the Philippines were also beautifully rendered by the PBFDT. A special cultural performance for this year’s Independence Day celebration was presented by the PBFDT, the longest running folk dance troupe in the Philippines. They performed a heart-warming and nostalgic repertoire of Philippine cultural dances, including dances from the Paligo/Banga, Sayap, La Simpatika, Kumintang, Tahing Baila, Malong, Pandagngo sa Ilaw, Subli, Binasuan, Palo-palo, Salakot/Obando and Tinikling. For the first time, the PBFDT was brought to New Zealand by the Embassy of the Philippines in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and New Zealand Filifest Cultural Group Inc.
The special performances 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 heartwarming 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.