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Mateship in action in 2020

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Philippine Secretary of Defence Delfin V. Lorenzana expresses his appreciation to Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO for Australia’s support to the AFP Medical Centre.

Group Captain Ian Goold, CSC, former Defence Attaché in Manila, reflects on the continuing tradition of mateship and bayanihan amid the COVID-19 pandemic

There is a certain comradeship that bonds military personal together. This bond works across nations, just as it does within military units. As a military man, I am never happier than when I see that spirit, known as bayanihan, here in the Philippines, in action.  I was part of a great example of this in 2020.

The military engagement between Australia and the Philippines is strong and varied. During the course of any particular year, up to 1000 members of our two organisations would travel to each other’s nation, to take part in exercises, courses or other visits. In any year, other than 2020, that is!

With most mutual activities cancelled, the Australian Defence Force, and the Defence Section in Manila, had untapped capacity. We searched for new and innovative means of working with our friends in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to keep our relationship strong.  It was not long before an opportunity to collaborate on a meaningful project was identified.

Our Office Manager, Christine Caperig informed us that the AFP were establishing a COVID-19 ward at their main medical centre in Quezon City, named the Victoriano Luna Medical Centre. While the AFP were being extraordinarily careful with their anti-COVID measures and practices, many troops and medical staff were in public-facing roles and it was inevitable that they would have some cases. They needed beds, basic ward equipment, more advanced COVID-related equipment and a lot of Personal Protective Equipment to set up the ward.

The Australian Defence team leapt into action, gaining very fast approval from Canberra to assist. AUD1 million was approved by the Minister of Defence and the team worked in collaboration with the medical centre and AFP’s Health Services Command to acquire and deliver the equipment.  I was deeply impressed with how well the teams from these agencies co-operated together – and with local suppliers – to get the equipment in place in time for a spike in COVID cases in Manila by mid-2020.   

Our work was not yet finished, however. The spike in cases threatened to overrun the COVID ward at the V. Luna Medical Centre by late summer. Additionally, the regional AFP medical centres were looking a little vulnerable, as cases across the country increased. More assistance was required.

A second round of assistance was quickly cleared through Canberra and a further AUD 2 million was spent on further medical equipment. This was to be distributed among V. Luna Medical Centre in Manila and the four regional medical centres operated by the Unified Commands of the AFP, in places like Zamboanga City and Cebu City.

Thus, an unfortunate crisis led to a demonstration of the deep respect and comradery that exists between the AFP and the Australian Defence Force.  This reaction has recent precedent. The Australian Defence Force assisted the aftermath of Tropical Typhoon Yolanda, in 2013 with up to 500 personal, medical and rescue teams and airlift, and during the Battle for Marawi in 2017, two RAAF AP-3C aircraft provided airborne situational awareness to the AFP. The Australian Defence Force has been, and will continue to be here to assist, if called upon.

It is with a great sense of humility that I can reflect on the outstanding levels of cooperation, openness and goodwill that went into this new chapter of cooperation between our two militaries.  Mateship, in action in 2020.

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In photo from left: (back) AFP Chief of Staff General Felimon T. Santos, Secretary of National Defense Delfin N. Lorenzana, Australian Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO, and AFP Health Service Commander Colonel Edgar M Cardinoza PAF (front) AFP Health Service Deputy Commander Col Marinela M Cailipan MC (GSC), AFP The Surgeon General Colonel Nelson S Pecache, Australian Defence Attache Group Captain Ian Goold, CSC, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel Major General Adriano S Perez and Chief of VLMC Colonel Fatima Claire S Navarro MC.

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