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The Ties that Bind the Philippines and UK

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prior to her Ministerial visit to the Philippines, Meg provided the following viewpoint for the Annual Business Economic and Political Review: Philippines. For further details visit: http://www.oxfordbusinessgroup.com/publication.asp?country=53



Having visited the Philippines, I know how friendly and hospitable the people are, their sense of fortitude, resilience and keen interest in the world around them. These attributes are expressed in a vibrant democracy that combines freedom with economic growth.  We recently celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries, a relationship I wish to develop further and deeper.


The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country in a region with diverse faiths and cultures.  It is enriched by an Islamic influence and population of around 4 million in the southern islands of Mindanao and Palawan.  Islamic culture and tradition stretches across the region, transforming the country into a major centre of education, commerce, and trade centuries before the arrival of Spanish and American colonisers.  


We sustain a healthy trading relationship: total bilateral trade amounts to approximately 1billion a year.  UK exports in 2006 were 243.5m: these include electrical appliances, medical/pharmaceutical products, and general industrial machinery.  For the same period, UK imports were 755.5m: primarily office equipment, vehicle components, fish products, textile fibres and garments.


The UK is one of the largest investors in the Philippines. There are currently over 200 British companies active - Shell, HSBC and British Gas are just a few of the big names.  There are also a number of British retail franchises, companies such as Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Wallis, Clarks Shoes, Top Shop, Mothercare and Burberry. The recent recovery and strengthening of the Philippine economy has increased the opportunities for inward investment.


Strengthening transparency and accountability by improving economic governance is important for sustained economic growth and stability. The UK supports projects which focus on anti-corruption, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, fiscal reform, competition and regulation, and e-governance.  We are grateful for the constructive support we receive from the Philippine government.


The British Council also plays a key part in the bilateral relationship focusing on learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK.  The Council’s work on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has been an invaluable tool in providing Filipinos international mobility in the global marketplace. 


In the UK we host thousands of Filipino migrants and visitors studying in our schools, caring for our sick and elderly, or engaging in small businesses.  They provide the strongest evidence of our efforts to strengthen the vitality and deepen the diversity of our own society, and remain crucial partners in the global effort to spread peace and democracy in a region fraught with conflict.


Our Embassy in the Philippines has accomplished much in the past few years. It has fostered co-operation on a number of foreign policy issues: human rights and climate change, engaging the Islamic world, economic governance and counter-terrorism. We also work with the Philippine government about our concerns over the pace of investigations and prosecutions of extra-judicial killings. Figures of people killed vary, but the numbers are high enough to be a serious issue. 


Following independent investigations of the Melo Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur, the government announced measures to tackle this problem.  President Arroyo also asked European Union member states for technical assistance. A joint ‘Needs Assessment Mission’ visited the Philippines in June 2007, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office identified and partly funded a UK expert for this. We are pleased that some progress has been made but will continue to follow this issue closely.


Capital punishment was abolished in June 2006 and the Philippines signed the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in New York in September 2006. Strengthening children’s rights has been a priority for our Embassy in Manila.  In April 2006, the Philippines passed a Juvenile Justice Bill, which emphasised the rehabilitation rather than punishment of young offenders. This raised the age of criminal responsibility from 9 to 15 years old.  It also stopped children from being sent to prisons along with adult criminals.  We continue to support programmes to reduce child sexual exploitation and trafficking.


The UK government is committed to safeguarding the rights of the vulnerable by countering the threat posed by terrorism. The Philippines is a staunch partner in this, sharing with us a rejection of any minority hijacking religious identity and using fear to undermine freedom and democracy. The Philippine Congress passed the "Human Security Act” in February of this year, and institutionalised more effective means for investigating, prosecuting, and punishing terrorists.


In more practical ways our Embassy in Manila is also helping to run a Police Capacity Building Project using funds from our ‘Global Opportunities Fund for Counter-Terrorism’. We also work closely with key government agencies on a programme of crisis management training.


One of the historical factors contributing to poverty and armed conflict is colonialism. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s ‘Engaging with the Islamic World’ programme runs projects aimed at supporting inter-faith dialogue and promoting a culture of peace. They contribute toward community reconciliation in the southern Philippines, and there are promising signs of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 


Through ‘Engaging with the Islamic World’ we have helped local communities manage risk, alleviate trauma, and built sustainable livelihoods. Another initiative is the formation of a united mainstream Muslim voice to counter extremism, promote democracy, and address the concerns of the Muslim community.


Climate change is a major priority for the UK government and is rising up the agenda of governments in Southeast Asia.  The region will play an important role in the global movement to arrest climate change as we move towards the United Nations ‘Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties’ to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in December. 


To support the growing awareness of the true costs of climate change, the British Government is helping finance an economic analysis of its impact on six countries in the Asia Pacific region. The study will apply the methodology employed in Sir Nicholas Stern’s global review of the economics of climate change on a regional scale. We are also contributing funding to a regional South East Asia Climate Change Conference in Malaysia on 29-30 October, in which the Philippines will participate. 


Challenges remain, but Britain and the Philippines will continue to work together on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues. As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for our relationship with the Philippines I expect that the ties that bind our two countries will grow and strengthen, as the interaction between our two peoples increase. I am convinced this will be positive for both our countries.  

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