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Alba Iulia
Saturday, April 10, 2021

The ruthless year that was 2020

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At the onset of the year, Victoria was gripped by bushfires so wild that it is hailed the worst bushfire season in history. Just as we were recovering from that trauma, COVID-19 swept the world by storm and locked us all indoors to avoid spread of the infection especially to vulnerable members of the community. 

However unforgiving the year was, we saw shining examples of Filipino-Australian individuals and groups who stepped up to make a landmark difference to other people’s lives despite unrelenting challenges to our physical and mental health as well as social and economic wellbeing. 

Major community milestones

The community witnessed the formal establishment of the Philippine Consulate General office and just before yearend, signed a lease contract for its permanent home in Melbourne CBD. Deputy Consul General Atty Anthony Mandap has also formally announced the arrival of the new Consul General, Maria Lourdes Salcedo and some staff. 

Another piece of good news for the community is the Filipino Community Council of Victoria Inc’s (FCCVI) acquisition of a property in Brooklyn which will be the site of the Filipino Hub, a centre that houses among other things, a venue for programs and events good for 300 people. It will also house FCCVI’s office after it left the Philippine House in Footscray.

Achievers on a roll

Our kababayan from New South Wales (NSW) Jose Relunia was awarded the Penrith City Council 2020 Australia Day Award and the Australia Day Honours Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division. Relunia is known for his involvement with the Australian Devotees of Our Lady of Peñafrancia and the Philippine Australian Society for Senior Citizens Inc.

Carmen Garcia, President of the Filipino Community Council of Australia, was conferred the Governor’s Multicultural Award, Outstanding Individual Achievement in South Australia. The award recognises South Australians who promote multiculturalism and cultural diversity. 

Filipino nurse from NSW Rowena Gatchalian, Clinical Manager for Regis Ringwood, was honoured with the CEO Award and Clinical Excellence Award in the National Staff Awards by Regis Aged Care. Regis is one of the largest and most geographically diverse residential aged care providers in Australia.

Filipino beauty Ilyssa Mendoza was crowned Miss Earth Eco Tourism 2020 in a pageant held online. She also won the Bronze Award for the long gown competition.

Help where it is needed

Some kababayans lost properties during the bushfire which started late December 2019. When a State of Disaster was declared, people had to be evacuated and flee their homes for safety. A number of individuals and organisations came to the rescue with relief packs. Organisations who came to help included FCCVI and the Council of Filipino Australian Organisations in Victoria (CAFOVI). Relief drives to collect teddies, raise funds through concerts and Zumba classes were also held. 

Three sectors have been mostly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic—the elderly, international students and the frontline health care workers (HCWs). Since the infection makes people with certain health risks such as asthma, diabetes, heart condition more vulnerable, the first line of people who were severely affected were the elderly and health care workers. 

COVID-19 exposed the risks posed on our kababayans who were employed in hospitals and aged care facilities. This became the subject of a roundtable discussion which tackled protection for HCWs, especially Filipino-Australians serving COVID patients. The appeal to stay home became more emphasised with the growing number of cases and deaths. Moreover, the pandemic also unfolded the increased dangers for our elderly, not only of infection but also of their mental health.

FCCVI and the Australian Filipino Community Services stepped up to the plate of addressing the needs of seniors with care packages. AFCS also ran programs such as Kumusta Ka, online family prayers, Sa Aking Halamanan, Be Connected and the Community Visitors Scheme. 

Another affected group during the pandemic is the international student sector. A number of students got laid off or not given shift hours. Some were not even eligible to receive government grants. The Pilipino Unified Support Organisation (PUSO) launched Tulong Mula sa Puso to initially help their student volunteers, but later expanded to other students, for food relief. Cory Navarro of the Charter Club of Melbourne, along with other individuals also had an “Adopt an International Student” program to help them with accommodation and bills. 

The 5B’s Humanitarian Inc provided students with groceries and cooked meals. The group also had an “Adopt a Student” program as well as trained them in cleaning and gardening to help them get employed. The group also assisted students who got infected with COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Australia Philippines Business Council initiated the Filipino Students Hardship Appeal. This was in partnership with Gawad Kalinga, which distributed grocery vouchers and winter clothes. A digital Job Board was also posted for displaced students. Migrante Melbourne also chipped in with its Hardship Appeal for International Students.

Business in a crisis period

Setting up shop in a crisis is risky, but rewarding as evidenced by Filipino-Australians who either opened a new venture or innovated the business to cope. Luke Guanlao is a savvy, young entrepreneur who acquired a Fitness First licence to operate 260 branches all across Asia. He believes that opportunities are out there, especially in health and fitness when people will be focused on looking after their health long after the pandemic.

Our Melbourne entrepreneurs had to adapt to survive the pandemic. From couture and gowns, Lillian Bermudez Bridal and Formal shifted to making fashionable masks and personal protective gears. MLV Accounting delivered services online, while Western Travel added services such as visa consultancy to tide them over. Many shifted their operations online and had to adopt a new model of running things. 

Happiness on a plate

On a lighter note, a necessity which Filipino-Australians were more than happy to fulfill is food. The ingenuity of the Pinoy chef is evident with the trending of flavoured pan de sal, the most popular of which is the ube (cheese) variety. Award-winning chef John Rivera premiered his Kariton Sorbetes artisanal gelato and elevated Pinoy ice cream to a whole new level of yumminess. 

New restaurants also opened to introduce Australians to our cuisine and to offer ours to a familiar palate. Joining the fray are Mama Lita’s in OneWorld+, Chibog in West Footscray, and Filipino BBQ House in Springvale.

Aside from these entrepreneurial pursuits, there was a compelling push for greater appreciation for Filipino food. The Entrée.Pinays which initially planned to host three barrio events in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, opted for online chikahan events through social media in lieu of physical gatherings. The Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry organised Food Philippines, a Filipino food promotion in Australia which opened the lines between Filipino exporters and Australian buyers and put up cooking events, in-store promotions and raffles. 

Live on air

This year saw the burgeoning of Filipino programs over the radio. Pre-pandemic, Date Night Monday with V aired over 94.7 The Pulse Geelong community radio station. The program connected music enthusiasts and artists for a live gig. It was also aired over FB Live. Pinoy Ako, Pinoy Tayo in Melbourne, hosted by Arlan Pineda Fajardo aired over FB as a live broadcast.

Good Vibes Pilipinas is aired over at Melton’s 97.9 FM community radio. It streams live over at FB as well as YouTube. It offers banters on various topics of interest and is hosted by Melvin Mata, May Red Zafra, Bibo Santos, Mai Rivera and Jorge. Barkadahan sa Barangay Live is an online program on FB hosted by Fred Jover and Gina Agustin covering interesting topics and interviews with community members. 

Arts and entertainment

COVID-19 has put all events and live entertainment on a ground halt. But this did not hinder our Filipino-Australian artists from expressing their music. With online platforms, they have continued to entertain fans by streaming originals or covers. Some artists also released new music via music streaming platforms such as Spotify. Sheralyn May recorded and released Baby You; Marc Ordonez, Sa’Yo; Five Fifty Myth, Andito Lang Ako. Five Fifty Myth also signed up a record deal with Black Sheep Records in Manila.

Joy and sadness

This year, The Philippine Times celebrated its 30th anniversary since its maiden edition came out in November 1990. A big event was planned but had to be cancelled because of COVID-19. Instead, the editorial team opted to hold a special dinner at Ginger Olive. The event was graced by newly-arrived Philippine Consul General Maria Lourdes Salcedo.

It would have been a total happy celebration if not for the untimely demise of Philippine Times resident cartoonist Ka Joel Magpayo. He was 79. His last editorial cartoon was published in the publication’s 30th-anniversary edition (November 2020).

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