Diplomacy in public

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

The incoming President of the Philippines has said that he wants open government and one signal of that is the commitment to share documents requested by the public. As the UK believes in freedom of information, I am taking this opportunity to share a viewpoint ahead of the inauguration.

Firstly, my appreciation and gratitude to my many friends in the outgoing Aquino administration. We have achieved a great deal together and the Philippines can be proud of its standing in the world. The strong economy has meant that our commercial dealings have set new records. On climate change, terrorism and a rules based approach to global issues, the Philippines has been a positive force. We have an extradition treaty so criminals cannot hide from justice. When needed, our people have reached out to each other.

My original intention was to write about the hopes of the UK in the years ahead. I realised very quickly that my Filipino friends and indeed the members of the incoming President’s team share the same aspirations.

As visitors, we feel the well known warmth and hospitality of Filipinos. How much better would the welcome be with efficient airports. We are involved in the new Mactan-Cebu airport and can offer interim as well as long term solutions to NAIA beyond our current runway optimisation project.  Safety and trust in public transport is vital. I offer a simple suggestion regarding taxis. Every passenger at an airport taxi rank should get a paper from a uniformed officer confirming the ID of the driver, the plate number and destination with an indicative sector fare.

Removal of limitations on foreign ownership of businesses and land will create jobs for Filipinos. We prefer doing business lawfully and expect contracts to be respected. Disputes are best resolved by negotiation but if parties go to Court, the process should be fast and fair. Businesses, foreign and local, want to pay their fair share in taxes and duties. We are encouraged to hear that Customs Officers will ask only for what is rightly due for a container to be cleared.   Companies want transparent assessment of taxes and refund of VAT that they are exempt from in days not years. The PEZA model is a success story that the country can expand further.

We want to eat your fruits and wear your garments. That is why the EU has a zero tariff agreement with the Philippines for many goods. Let us cement that with free trade agreement. Infrastructure investment in roads, rail and ports will release the true potential of global trade. Further reform in shipping can mean  it is no longer more expensive to move goods from Davao to Manila than sending it to Hong Kong. We have world class medicines that can make Filipinos healthier. But the capacity to clear drugs will always challenge the hardworking DOH. Do what we do in Europe; if a drug is good in one European state we take as being good for us too. As the largest investor in the Philippines from the EU, we have a lot to offer to job seekers, consumers and indeed to government revenues. 

We all need security to prosper. The offer of the hand of peace reaching out from this Administration to the next,  gives us grounds for optimism. Through the experience of Northern Ireland we know both the cost of conflict and the rewards of a political settlement.  Our future cannot be held to ransom by those who reject humanity and we share the aim of eliminating terrorism. We believe in international norms and processes and will remain in the forefront of defending the rights of sovereign nations. We believe passionately in the rule of law and understand why a number of Filipinos are against capital punishment as a means of enforcement. 

Filipino students tell me they want to be as well equipped as their neighbors to succeed. That means better, not less, education and the K to 12 policy will help in this regard. Our educators want to offer Filipinos who cannot afford to send their kids abroad the chance to experience British schools and universities here.  There is a growing consensus for the constitutional ban on foreign institutions and full-time teachers to be lifted.

The majority of my staff is Filipino and they are glad to hear that urban transport is to be given a high priority. They also need affordable housing near work. The UK now has one of the biggest transport investment programmes in Europe and we have many working examples of how property developers can deliver social housing mixed in with high-end residents.

We have a shared agenda for a prosperous and inclusive Philippines making a positive impact in our world.

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

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