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An In-depth Interview with Ambassador: Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega By Mars Cavestany

Thursday, 31 January 2019 15:03 Written by

An eminent career officer of the Philip- pine Department of Foreign Affairs, an ex- perienced all-rounder top brass former Ex- ecutive Director of the Office of Asia and Pacific (ASPAC) ; as well as a Philippine Representative to the ASEAN High Level Task Force that drafted the ASEAN Vision 2025.
Needless to say, her scholastic record is dot- ted with honors ad dis- tinctions graduating cum laude at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila with a Bachelor’s Degree in Asian Studies.
sador De La Vega in June 2018, the Order of Si- katuna with the Rank of Datu (Gold Cross) for her important role during the Philippine Chairmanship of ASEAN. Ambassador De La Vega is married.
She is again dear readers on a more indepth question and answer repartee.
Q1. For us all to gain a brief profile and back- ground notes of your be- ginnings could you kindly give us a brief run-down of your career highlights as an Ambassador from you previous postings to your most important distinc- tions please?
A1. Australia is my second Ambassadorial post. I first became an Ambassador in 2009 and served in Yangon, Myanmar for three years. I was in Myanmar during the most important phase in Myanmar’s history- where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from pris- on and thereafter she ran for elections and won. She is now the State Councillor. Under my watch in Myan- mar, we tried in our modest measure to help the coun- try in its economic reform
by sharing our best practices with them. In Manila, I was appointed in 2014 to be the Philippine Representative to the ASEAN High Level Task Force responsible for draft- ing the ASEAN Vision 2025. All of us in that group agreed without reservation that our focus will be the well-being of the more than 600 million citizens of ASEAN, thus we were guided by an overall aim of a “people-centered, people oriented ASEAN”. I did not realize then that this task will eventually lead to my next assignment as Phil- ippine Director General/ As- sistant Secretary for ASEAN. During this term, I was re- sponsible for shepherding the substantive preparations for our rotational chair- manship of ASEAN in 2017, which coincided with the 50th founding anniversary of ASEAN. Thus, I and my team needed to shepherd as well our national commemorative activities for this milestone. Q2. How would you assess the over-all state of Philip- pine-Australian diplomatic relations at the moment given some rather unsettling events such as the not so
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Dear readers, let’s make welcome our new lady ambassador in the person of Ambassa- dor Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega
Her educational enrich- ment crosses far and wide having been a recipient of a Fellowship Program on Investments Promotion from the Belgian Gov- ernment, including, (take note) a Foreign Service Training Course under the auspices of the Austral- ian Department of For- eign Affairs and Trade so this isn’t the first time she had what we Filo-Aussies fondly refer to as fondly “Australian content and connection.”
She surely comes in our midst and brings with her a whole gamut of government ser- vice behind her including served as the As- sistant Secretary in the Office of ASEAN Affairs and the Director General of the ASEAN-Philippines National Secretariat from December 2015 to 04 September 2018. In her term, she organized and shepherded the substantive preparations for the Philip- pine hosting and Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2017 and ASEAN’s 50th Anniversary commemorative activities which were, no doubt humongous events that required Her- culean efforts. But that’s an expertise Mad- ame de la Vega wears daintily and o
Ambassador Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega
To complete and round off the equation, she was no less a Freeman Fellow at the famed John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. obtaining a Master’s Degree on International Public Policy from the Paul Nitz School of Ad- vanced International Stud- ies.
Her past foreign service postings prior to Australia has been as Consul General in Los Angeles (twice, in 2003-2007 and then 2012 to 2014) .She was also the Philippine Ambassador to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar from September 2009 to October 2012.
(also known as Arroyo Administration that spanned two terms including the other half of the ousted President Jo- seph Estrada.
It’s interesting to note that she was likewise the Deputy Chief of Mission, Minister Con- sul General at the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, People’s Republic of China under the Presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Before that she rose from the ranks from Third Secretary and Vice Consul in Jakarta, Indonesia (1990-‘93); then Second Secretary and Consul in Ma- drid, Spain (1994-’96); and First Sec- retary and Consul Tokyo, Japan (2001- ’03).
The Philippine Govern- ment awarded Ambas-

“Great to be awarded for something you love doing”- DR. CORAZON ALVAREZ FRANCISCO

Thursday, 31 January 2019 14:59 Written by


Interview by Mars Cavestany
Dr. Corazon Alvarez-Francisco, belongs to that van- ishing breed of Filipino professionals who escaped the Philippines and chose to resettle permanently in Aus- tralia in 1987 after realizing the political turbulence of the 1980’s and what she aptly calls living in “false sense of complacency.”
Thirty one years henceforth. Dr. Francisco, so well- loved and highly respected by her kababayans in NSW, returned to the Philippines to claim 2018 Presiden- tial Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas, “Banaag Award” from President Duterte in Malacanang Palace during the awarding ceremonies, 5th December 2018.
“It feels so great to be awarded for something you love doing”, so says Dr. Francisco. Follow the short but sweet and very insghtful responses to this true-blue woman of substance provides to our Q-A that charts her humble be- ginnings as a university prrofessor in Manila, widening her horizons in a new-found land in Sydney, Australia and building up a tremendously successful career now being one of the most-sought after medical experts in Australia.
Gawad ng Pangulo Presidential Awards, 5th December 2018.
Dra Corazon Francisco with her husband Engr Ferdi Francisco at Malacanang Palace during the awarding, 5th December 2018
Q-1. Let’s starts off with statistics. How many years of professional medical service did you serve in the Philip- pines before you migrated to Australia. In what year did you first arrive here?
A I had 10 years practice as an Obstetrician Gynae- cologist in Metro Manila, before migrating to Australia in 1987. As well, I left behind my being an Assistant Professor in OB-Gyn at Manila Central University, Ca- loocan campus.
Q- 2. Would you be able to share us your respectable thoughts as to why you chose to migrate and leave the Philippines and why Australia and not somewhere else in US or Europe where your people of your higher cali- bre, educational, and experiential background is much in demand and would be verily appreciated?
Receiving the plaque as Presidential Awardee.
Q-7. You are a fellow Ilocano Manang, critically speaking, how would you react to some serious criticisms about so- called Ilocano leaders in general without dropping names) who have held the leadership reigns of this and that group, one too many major organizations headed by Ilocanos one after another . On top of that historical reality, there are always wrangling and infighting for positions. I ask these with the end in view of the underlying and never-ending issue of unification which as you know rocked the boats for almost a decade between APCO and PCC involving many Ilocanos bigwigs at that? Would you like to share us your well considered thoughts on such inter-related con- cerns?
A- The main reason why we left the Philippines was the political and economic situation during the 80’s. My eyes were opened suddenly in 1983 when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. Succeeding events showed us the true picture of the country then; that we were living in a false sense of complacency. My kids were then so young and my husband was working in Saudi Arabia. We did not want our kids to grow up in such an environment, so we decided to leave. We chose Australia because of a more family oriented lifestyle compared to America. I had the chance to visit USA and Sydney before we made the de- cision.
A- Through the PAMA, we had been conducting an- nual, free Medical, Dental and Surgical missions in various remote areas in the Philippines, for the past 11 years. For our next medical mission, we will be going to San Narciso, Zambales and Munoz, Nueva Ecija in March, 2019. We plan to continue with this project yearly and as long as we are able to.
Q- 3. If you were to assess your own personal achieve- ments what are you most proud of and happy that you’ve done it?
A- Amongst my achievements, I am very proud of having founded the Philippine Australian Medical As- sociation (PAMA), Inc., knowing very well the hardships of Filipino doctors to apply for eligibility in Australian society. I organized review classes for those anxiously preparing to take the Australian Medical Council (AMC) exams, imbuing to the members a sense of camaraderie rather than of competition. Also worth mentioning are my being the First Filipino Doctor to become a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practition- ers (FRACGP) in 1996 and the First Filipino Doctor in Australia to become a member of the Panel of Examin- ers for the Fellowship Exams for General Practitioners in 1996. I am also very proud of maintaining my solo practice as a GP in Quakers Hill which is now on its 26th year.
Q- 6. Let’s focus now on your Australian matters and af- fairs most especially your involvement in the Filipino com- munity. What particular groups are you most active with and why? What have you particularly contributed to the organization per se and to our fellow migrants in general which obviously became the raison de etre of your award in Malacanang?
A-Truly, I feel sad about the fact that there is too much ego fighting among us. Too much emphasis on personali- ties rather than our being Filipinos as a whole. Breaking away from the mainstay association seems to be a pattern adopted by some, due to personality disagreements. Ana- lyzing historical facts however, it is very seldom that the break-away group becomes successful.
Q- 4. At these stage of your life where you would have attained probably what holds weight in your life and existence, and with the children having grown up and achieving fantastically on their own, should you be of- fered a good post back home (for government or pri- vately perhaps) will you pack up and leave everything behind?
B. The University of the Philippines Alumni Association in Australia, NSW Chapter (UPAAA-NSW). As President of the UPAAA-NSW from 2000-2002, I initiated the student exchange program in collaboration with the University of the Philippines (UP) and two prestigious Universities in Australia - The University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney. We were able to invite Prof. Fran- cisco Nemenzo, then UP President, to visit Sydney. Under my leadership we held fund raising activities to help sup- port the computerization of UP. Alongside my husband, I coordinated and spearheaded fund raising activities in con- nection with the UPAAA-NSW Scholarship grant project, whose activities (such as The Oblation Cup Golf Tourna- ment from 2008 to 2015) generated a substantial amount of funds to support 8 indigent yet deserving tertiary students in UP.
Regionalism is not good too. We should always remem- ber that we are Filipinos, and we represent our country as a whole, not just a part of it.
Q- 9. Is retirement something you have considered sooner or later? How do you wish to spend your time in retire- ment?
A- No. I have reached the stage where I would rather spend the rest of my life with my family and 2 lovely grandchildren.
Q-5. Talking of home, please highlight as to your own prioritizing, the help/aid or personal achievements you have extended or shared to our kababayans as a medical practitioner? Have or are these one off or continuing? Any project ideas brewing at the moment that most ex- cites and challenges you as far as helping our Mother country is concerned?
C. The Timek Iti La Union Association, (TILAUNA), Inc. I was one of the 7 founders in 2002 and became President in 2013 to 2017. I realigned the association into its goals particularly the Scholarship program, camaraderie and re- connection with La Union. In 2017, we participated in the outreach program of the Philippine Consulate General in Sydney which provided the Filipinos in Grafton, NSW and surrounding communities to obtain dual citizenship and to
Q-10. My usual goodbye note is to request you for a gen- eral parting message to our readers throughout Australia. Take it away Madam... Agyaman nac unay...
A- To be awarded for something that I love doing is great! So that my advice to the readers of PCHN, is to persevere in what you are doing, if you deem it good for the com- munity. Instil peace, joy, love and harmony among one an- other to achieve stability while we enjoy our lives in our adopted country.
A-A. The Philippine Australian Medical Association (PAMA), where I was the Founder and the Founding Presi- dent. In the early nineties, I helped struggling Filipino doc- tors to pass their AMC Exams, the requirement to obtain licensure to practice medicine here. The pitiful plight of the Filipino migrant doctors then, so inspired me. Some were working as clerks, factory workers, technicians, gasoline attendant, nurses, etc. They obtained their licensure one by one and redeemed their dignity as doctors.
Q-8. Would you care to comment about our intrinsic cul- tural traits, customs, mores, and traditional habits and manner of thinking and doing things that you yourself is not happy about and that which you may believe are pre- cisely the blemish, curse, if not the all-time deterrent to our growth and total development as Filipino-Australians? A- Crab mentality is a bad trait among us. We should recognize, support and praise the achievements of others rather than downgrade it.
process other consular documents.
A- No permanent retirement for me. For as long as God allows me, I will maintain my present state: part time gen- eral practitioner, enjoying family life especially with my grandchildren.
Stay healthy and wise! A very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to all!!!

Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray, 2018 Miss Universe

Thursday, 31 January 2019 14:43 Written by

(Photo) Wikipedia File: Mioss Universe 2018 TV Photographers by Peak Hora

Catriona Gray, made history by becoming the first Filipi- na-Australian to win both Miss World Philippines in 2016 missing the crown but still landing 1st runner up only to reclaim a much-deserved bigger title as Miss Universe Philippines and recently bagging the stiffly contested 2018 Miss Universe crown.
Ms Gray truly made the entire Philippines proud when she sashayed on the global stage and showcased the genu- ine qualities defining a Filipina beauty: confidence, grace, intelligence and strength in the face of tough challenges,” Duterte said in a statement from the presidential palace.
This is the 4th global honour for the Philippines, re- echoing the Gloria Diaz (1969) and Margie Moran (1993) two in a close row win what with Pia Wurtzbach figuring prominently in 2015 after a long 42 years wait and followed closely by Catriona Gray only 3 years after.
“In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work.”
President Duterte’s congratulatory letter sums up what everyone feels for our latest queen.
Filo-Aussies are happily reminded that Ms. Gray first captured our hearts as the Little Miss Philippines in 1999 where she then competed in the famous “Eat Bulaga” TV show competition of the same title representing the Filo community in Australia.

Boosting support for older Australians

Sunday, 20 January 2019 22:40 Written by

The Liberal and Nationals Government will deliver more support for older Australians, with a half a billion dollar ($552.9 million) increase to aged care funding including the release of 10,000 high-level home care packages within weeks.

We understand that older Australians prefer to receive support and services in their own home and live independently for as long as possible.

The 10,000 new high-level home care packages deliver important services at home, such as complex clinical care from a range of providers, nursing and mobility care, nutrition, hydration and meal preparation and transport support.

The packages and will be available in early 2019 and will be spilt across 5,000 level three and 5,000 level four care packages, providing up to $50,000 per person in services each year.

The $287 million home care expansion is on top of the extra 20,000 packages funded in the past year, which combined will result in a record 40 per cent increase in the number of people receiving home care packages.

We will also ease the cost of living for 70,000 older Australians by reducing the daily maximum fees payable by up to $400 per year for level one packages, $200 a year for level two packages and $100 a year for a level three packages.

Older Australians who are not currently charged this maximum fee will still benefit because we will increase the value of packages by providing a top-up payment for additional services by providers that is the same amount as the fee reduction.

We are also investing more in providers that support older Australians living in rural and remote areas and people who have been affected by homelessness.

These providers face unique circumstances and cost pressures and we want to ensure their sustainability.

The Viability Supplement for eligible residential aged care providers is to be increased by 30 per cent, through an investment of $101.9 million.

Currently, more than 550 services, accounting for around 13,500 residential care places, receive the Viability Supplement to offset higher care costs in regional areas.

The Homeless Supplement will also be increased by 30 per cent, through a $9.3 million funding injection. Currently, 42 residential services receive the homeless supplement on behalf of more than 1,700 residents.

We will also invest $98 million to fund increased payments to GPs to attend residential aged care homes to treat patients. This recognises the important role of GPs in supporting the health and care of patients in residential aged care.

These initiatives reflect the rollout of our Government’s unprecedented aged care improvements to help ensure older Australians receive the care they want and deserve, where and when they need it.

We have invested an extra $1 billion a year in aged care services since 2013 and have continued our record investment through the 2018/19 Budget’s $5 billion boost over the next four years.

Because without a strong economy and getting our budget back into balance, we can’t make these important decisions. This is why a strong economy matters; because it guarantees the essential services Australians rely on without higher taxes.

It is this strong economic management that ensures we continue to invest record amounts of funding in aged care and other vital health initiatives including mental health, life-saving medicines, Medicare and public hospitals.

Even as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety goes about its’ important work, our commitment to improving care for older Australians will continue at full pace.


Thursday, 22 November 2018 15:26 Written by


A record number of infrastructure projects are coming to life in regional NSW with the NSW Government today announcing it is well on track to spend 30 per cent of Restart NSW funding in regional communities.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said every cent of a $9.5 billion reservation from Restart NSW is committed to fund projects in the regions.

“Contrary to what the Opposition Leader is spinning, the 2018/19 state budget clearly outlines the Restart NSW Fund has a balance of $32.9 billion, with $9.5 billion or 29 per cent of that fund already allocated or reserved for projects in regional NSW,” Mr Barilaro said.

“A record 500 projects have been approved for funding in regional NSW, upgrading roads and rail, improving water security and revitalising infrastructure including sale yards, airports and tourism facilities with many of the works already well underway.

“On top of this, we have the $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund of which every cent will be spent solely in regional NSW.

“Labor has already shown it will short-change the people of country and regional NSW, by taking away funds from the regions to shore up seats in Newcastle and Wollongong,” he said.

The Restart NSW Fund was established in 2011 by the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government, to improve economic growth and productivity in NSW, through targeted investment in infrastructure - funding sources include the NSW Government’s asset recycling program and investment earnings.

“The NSW Government is honouring our funding commitment with ongoing and unprecedented investment in a prospering and vibrant regional NSW,” Mr Barilaro said.

“We are proud that the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government created almost 115,000 jobs in regional NSW in the past three years, which is almost twice the amount Labor created in their eight years in office,” he said.

The Restart NSW Fund is in conjunction with the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government’s record investment in regional NSW, which includes the $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund, $300 million Stronger Country Communities Fund, $100 million Regional Cultural Fund and $100 million Regional Sports Infrastructure Fund.

Support for new parents

Thursday, 22 November 2018 15:24 Written by

Support for new parents
Effective support services can help new parents give their baby the best start in life. Many new parents need some support, whether it's help with feeding and settling their baby, or more intensive support.

Improving services for new parents and babies was the focus of a report tabled today by the NSW Parliament’s Committee on Community Services. The inquiry found issues with service coordination and accessibility, and gaps in support for parents who need extra help.

"Services for new parents can be disjointed and inconsistent. Our recommendations aim to ensure all parents can access universal services and vulnerable parents get more intensive support,” said Committee Chair Kevin Conolly MP.

“We heard that Aboriginal children have poorer outcomes because of trauma, violence and disadvantage. Supporting Aboriginal families to provide nurturing homes for their babies has to be a priority.”

According to Mr Conolly the inquiry also found that there are gaps in parenting services — for example, dads are often left out.

"The role of fathers in babies' development isn't fully appreciated and they're seen as helpers rather than equal partners. We think parenting programs for new fathers should be expanded and their role better recognised."

Improving access to parenting services was another focus of the inquiry. The report found that technology could be used to provide services to parents that are harder to reach, like those in rural areas.

"We heard about services being provided via web chat, telephone helplines and text messaging. We've recommended further development of technology-based parenting services.”

“We also looked at improving support for parents and babies with disability. We've recommended that parenting information be produced in accessible formats, and agency staff be trained in disability awareness. Services gaps caused by the NDIS also need to be addressed.”

"The first thousand days of a child's life are an important foundation for their future wellbeing. Our report aims to ensure that all new parents can create a loving and nurturing home for their babies."

FECCA says immigration decision shows lack of leadership

Thursday, 22 November 2018 15:22 Written by

FECCA says immigration decision shows lack of leadership
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) said today that the Prime Minister’s snap decision to cut immigration numbers by 30,000 showed a lack of leadership and was driven by dubious polling.

The Chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos, said today: “At a time when leadership is required, we see Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacting to a divisive agenda.

“Our strong immigration level is vital to Australia’s economic growth, something Mr Morrison himself emphasised earlier this year when he declared that cutting immigration would negatively impact the Budget, that it would ‘hit the bottom line, the deficit’

“Instead of now declaring ‘enough, enough, enough’, Mr Morrison should be showing national leadership with a comprehensive plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure so that it can service a growing, prosperous nation.

“It is not good enough for the nation’s Prime Minister to abandon long-term vision for our future and opt for short-term populist politics.

“The real issue in the so-called ‘immigration debate’ is inadequate infrastructure, not migrant numbers. We need a Government that shows true leadership on population policy,” Ms Patetsos said.

FECCA is the national peak body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Our role is to advocate and promote issues on behalf of our constituency to government, business and the broader community.

Newly Crowned Mutya ng Pilipinas Overseas Communities 2018

Thursday, 22 November 2018 15:15 Written by

Jade Roberts, Mutya ng Pilipinas Australia newly crowned Mutya ng Pilipinas Overseas Communities 2018.

50th Year Celebration of Mutya ng Pilipinas and Coronation Night held at Mall of Asia Arena

in Pasay City, Philippines last September 2018. (Rey Padernilla)