Sailing into Manila Bay during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021 (IPE21) was a slightly bittersweet moment for two Navy officers who longed to visit the country of their birth.
With no port visits during IPE21 because of COVID-19 restrictions, Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac and Lieutenant Maria Hondrade, along with other members of the crews of HMA Ships Canberra, Sirius and Anzac, could only look at the Philippines.
Instead, IPE21 conducted a number of virtual engagements on topics of interest to Australia and regional partners, and commanders participated by video in an official reception welcoming the Australian deployment.
HMAS Canberra nursing officer Lieutenant Aca-Ac moved to Australia from Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental province when he was aged 11.
He attended the virtual seminar on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during IPE21.
“I really feel blessed with the situation that I’m in, having been born in the Philippines, then spending most of my life in Australia,” Lieutenant Aca-Ac said.
“To serve my country that I have called home, and also to be able to give back to the country of my heritage, is really something unique to experience.”
HMAS Anzac’s assistant weapons electrical engineering officer Lieutenant Hondrade said it was exciting to sail into Manila Bay.
“It would have been cool to get off the ship. I’d have literally gone and eaten all the food if I could have stepped [ashore],” Lieutenant Hondrade said.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Lieutenant Hondrade is keen to make the most of her IPE21 experience and eager to deploy her language skills as Australia seeks to strengthen relationships throughout the region.
“Ahead of our Manila port visit, I put my hand up to help out with some of the potential language issues,” Lieutenant Hondrade said.
“I moved from Olongapo City, Philippines, to Australia when I was eight years old after my father secured work in Toowoomba, Queensland.
“I’m definitely Australian, though I’ve maintained a few Filipino habits just because of my family.”
Neither officer expected to be able to have conversations in their native language during their deployment before their arrival in Manila.
However, three Philippine Navy sea riders are taking part in IPE21, including IPE21 Deputy Commander Captain Constancio Reyes.
“I never would have thought I’d see a member of the Philippine Navy in Anzac, but Captain Reyes spent a couple of days on board, and to have that opportunity to interact was really good,” Lieutenant Hondrade said.
“It was really interesting seeing the Philippines out here working with us.”