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Victorian Government VIPs grace first diplomatic reception

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Maria Smith
Maria Smith
Maria Smith is the former Chairperson of the Australian Filipino Community Services, a non-profit organisation based in Victoria.

Considered the very first diplomatic reception hosted by the Melbourne Philippine Consulate General since it opened in 2019, the 125th Independence Day event at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) Isabella Fraser Room (named after the first-listed woman librarian in Victoria) proved to be a celebratory mingling and networking of consular officials and diplomats, business owners and academics, Victorian Parliament officials, community leaders and media representatives.    

Following the registration of guests and the media wall photo-taking, emcees Beng de Leon from Radio DZZZ and Jazel Alarca (Miss Australia International 2023) introduced Joshua Aaron Lafuente to sing the Philippine national anthem and Angel Bardos, the Australian anthem. Both later sang Ang Tanging Alay, accompanied by guitarist/composer Karlo Arcinue.

Consul General Maria Lourdes Salcedo (introduced by Consul Jan Sherwin Wenceslao) thanked distinguished guests Parliamentary Secretary Lambert representing Premier Dan Andrews; MP Wayne Farnham representing the Opposition Leader John Pesutto MP; and other government officials for lending their support.

Congen Salcedo also expressed gratitude to the SLV management team for the opportunity “to hold this auspicious event in such an historic space” and to sponsors Philippine Department of Tourism, Philippine Airlines, Victoria International Container Terminal and En Gold which showcased Filipino craftsmanship with fossil stone furniture. She also thanked the Consular Corps in Victoria and PH Consuls in Adelaide and Hobart.

Reflecting on her arrival in Melbourne in November 2020 to set up the first consular mission in Melbourne after almost four decades of absence, Congen Salcedo shared her two-week hotel quarantine experience. She likened stories of resilience to Filipino patriots who 125 years ago had the burning passion to free the country from Spanish colonialism, asserted their sovereign will to self-govern and drafted a constitutional program that included freedom of religion, speech and the press, and freedom for women to vote. 

She also revisited the time of the earliest “brave and hardworking” Filipino migrant workers to Australia, the so-called “Manila men” working as divers in Northern Australia; touring a cemetery with tombs of many Filipino names; and the fact that Australia and the Philippines were already trading partners in the 1800s.

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The Consul General spoke with optimism on the elevation of the bilateral partnership between the Philippines and Australia from “comprehensive to strategic” recently announced by Foreign Minister Penny Wong; Defence Minister Richard Marles agreeing to maintain “a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific region”; and Federal Minister Don Farrel aiming “to further grow trade, investment and tourism between the two countries”. 

The cake-cutting ceremony followed the speeches and toasts, then a short video (produced by Congen and daughter team) proudly showing the magical sunset at Manila Bay while instrumentalist Karlo Arcinue entertained with his original songs and strings composition.

Magical performances enthralled the audience: the Igorot Dancers for their performance, the Pilipino Elderly Association of South East Region (PEASER) for their Alay dance and the Mabuhay Dancers for their Malong performance, all introduced and accompanied by Jerson Trinidad with his exhilirating rendition of Piliin Mo Ang Pilipinas.

In acknowledging the 1-2-5 Organizing Committee members chaired by Consul Ralph Abarquez, Congen Salcedo shared the idea behind the unprecedented harmonised Independence celebrations that “started with zero budget but (had) lofty dreams, a good dose of grit, hope and determination and most certainly networks!” 

Her message echoed to over 60 scattered Filipino community organisations and around 95,000 Filipino migrants in Victoria alone, “In the years to come, it is my fervent wish that harmonising important community events will continue. There is so much to celebrate about the contributions of diverse communities to a multicultural Victoria and indeed Australia”. A copy of the 125 Kalayaan souvenir magazine Celebrating 125 Years of Philippine Independence provided a memorable gift to guests at this milestone event. 

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