A year to sow and harvest

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

In 2016, the Philippines and the UK will enjoy a bountiful harvest arising from the seeds that were sown 70 years ago when we established diplomatic links. A few days ago, Secretary Albert del Rosario hosted the visit by our Foreign Secretary, the third by a member of the British Cabinet since I arrived in Manila. These visits came after a drought of nearly 20 years. We are confident in our assessment that the Philippines in the next 70 years can emerge as a leading economy with an influential role in shaping the future of our world. This comes from the dynamism of Filipinos, the exposure the country has to all parts of the globe and a compelling need to ensure that more citizens enjoy the fruits of progress and have better lives.

My optimism is grounded in reality, not fantasy. We have worked well with the Philippines and we can point to tangible successes. Our engagement on climate change helped secure a global agreement in Paris last month. The Philippines has a progressive voice and we can now turn words into action by reducing emissions and using more renewable energy. We have worked long and hard together to find a lasting solution to the deadly conflict in Mindanao. The journey has not been easy and not without controversy but for the sake of all Filipinos and indeed the security of Britain, we have to sustain the effort for peace.

As part of the UN family, ASEAN and in its own right, the Philippines is well placed to shoulder and share responsibility for our planet. Filipinos and Britons live and work all over the world and we feel the impact of any instability, conflict or crisis. There are times when quiet diplomacy works but there are also times to be assertive. Your armed forces have a great reputation as UN Peacekeepers and our defence cooperation will strengthen the capability of the country to meet its challenges. We should do more to arrest terrorism, human trafficking, cyber crime and fraud. In our fight against the spread of disease, Filipino health care providers are amongst our best partners.

We invested in good governance and continue to lobby for a better environment for commerce. The UK is the largest investor in the Philippines from Europe. We create jobs, offer consumers greater choice and generate prosperity. With local partners, British companies are involved in infrastructure projects that will help unblock transport bottlenecks, improve health outcomes and resistance to natural disasters. If restrictions on foreign participation are lifted, we could do much more in areas such as education, tourism and energy. The benefits will trickle down to a greater number of ordinary Filipinos. Economic nationalism should be an out of date concept in the Philippines. OFWs and BPO employees already account for 20 percent of the population and their livelihoods are inseparable from the international economy.

With the Britons who settled in the Philippines starting from 250 years ago and those from here who chose to make the UK their home, we have bonds that go beyond formal diplomatic relations. We share the literature of Shakespeare. Songs by Jessie J or Lea Salonga and movies like Spectre and Star Wars entertain us in our common understanding of the English language. We can do more to tap into the creativity and talent that exists in our two countries. Our architects could work with you so that you too can have iconic landmarks and living spaces like those we have helped create in other parts of Asia. More textile and graphic designers should connect with each other to set new trends. Scientists and researchers should hunt for discoveries together, including the cohort of 35 post graduate Chevening and Newton scholars we plan to sponsor this year.

We take our work seriously, but we know how to have fun too. Two years ago, we planted the seed of having a GREAT British Festival outdoors all along Bonifacio High Street. We attracted 300,000 visitors over the three-day weekend in 2015. From 26 February onwards, twice as many businesses will take part, showing the best of Great Britain. Fashion, food, music, drinks, sports and cars will compete for your attention alongside miniature Britain for those essential selfies. Travel companies will be with our Visa team to entice you to visit the UK as a tourist, whilst the British Council will make the case for choosing Britain for education.

Our formal ties began in 1946. In the gloom of war, we were allies. In the modern world, we have emerged as vibrant friends.  Let’s sow the seeds now to sustain bountiful harvests for the next 70 years.

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 (Asif Ahmad is the British Ambassador to the Philippines.)

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