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A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

It is customary for an outgoing ambassador to send a report back to his home country setting out what has been achieved. As so much of our diplomatic work has been done in public, it is only right that you too should hear about the progress we have made over the last four years.

Our relationship must be seen in the context of both short and long term interests. Six years ago, we categorised the Philippines as an emerging power. Our assessment was that over a 30-year horizon, this country would record strong economic growth. The spending power across the spectrum of society would rise. The young age of the population, gives the country a pool of talent to develop. We saw scope for engagement in economic and social policy reform. The long overdue investment in infrastructure would create new opportunities. The Philippines has a tradition of being a force for good on global issues which include national and regional security, climate change, open commerce and a rules based world. There may be challenges along the way, but this positive outlook will continue to shape Britain’s approach to dealings with the government, civil society and citizens of the Philippines.

We have deployed more resources to the Philippines. The embassy has doubled in size since 2013. After a 16- year gap, we resumed Cabinet level contact. The Secretary of State for aid, two Foreign Secretaries and most recently, the International Trade Secretary have visited Manila. Princess Anne returned to the Philippines for a five-day visit that included Ormoc and British projects with vulnerable communities in Metro Manila.

The most outstanding demonstration of our emotional connection with Filipinos was the response to Typhoon Yolanda. The people of Britain raised P7 billion and our Government added another P7 billion. Through 1400 military and aid personnel, ships, planes, helicopters and special vehicles, we were able to provide direct supplies to people in remote areas. The UK was listed by the UN as the top donor and two independent audits confirmed that our intended aid reached the right people. Later, we looked more widely at disaster risk and a 40-strong team of experts worked alongside Filipino organisations to develop a more robust mitigation plan for a major earthquake in Manila.

Lord Stern’s research methodology was used for South East Asia in 2009, to show the untold devastation a country like the Philippines would suffer if global warming continued unchallenged. We were part of progressive campaign to secure the support of the Philippines. Every Filipino should take pride in the role this country played in securing and ratifying the Paris Agreement.

You have proud history of participation in international institutions like the UN and a tradition of support for a rules based world. The rights of the Philippines as a sovereign state and the protection of the country’s citizens through international treaties and law are underpinned by values the UK shares.

We have stayed with the peace process in Mindanao through thick and thin since 2008. The elation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the tragic loss of life and the revival of the proposed BBL, make us more determined than ever to offer our support. Our own painful experience in Northern Ireland serves as a source of inspiration. For Mindanao and indeed for the Republic as a whole, a peaceful and prosperous Bangsamoro will bring real change to the lives of ordinary people. The false arguments of extremists will be undermined and give power to the people of true faith.

Successive administrations have fostered strong economic growth in the Philippines. We applaud the 10-point economic and social agenda. Inclusive growth will be boosted by opening up sectors to more foreign investment. The UK has maintained its position as the largest investor in the country from the EU. From a very low base, we now have over P70 billion of investment in British companies from here. In 2015, the Philippines was the second fastest growing market for the UK in the world. The embassy, the British Chamber of Commerce and other partners in the Philippines have worked all around the UK, in cities in and out of Manila and other parts of the region to link business to opportunities.

Traditional and new approaches have defined the way in which we have undertaken our work to reach out to people. We have the advantage of having over 250,000 people of Filipino origin living and making a vital contribution to the UK. A record number of Filipinos now visit the UK using a variety of new visa services which now include 24-hour and 3/5-day processing options. We are a 20,000 strong community hosted by loving families and friends all over the Philippines. We have forged links with local government, the Police, immigration and health service providers. With the extradition treaty the late Senator Miriam championed for us, we have been able to deal with suspected criminals, including evil paedophiles.

We are doing more in education with our Chevening Masters Degree scholarships and PhD in science through Newton-Agham; from only eight students in 2013, we are sending around 40 to Britain this year.

We have also had a lot of fun. The year-long GREAT events have brought you British culture, sports, fashion, cars and visions of sustainable living. Half a million joined the Great British Festival in Manila and other cities. Two million voted for their contestant in our singing competition.

The many successes we have had have been achieved not just by the hard working team I have the privilege of leading, but the solid support of our partners in the Philippines and the UK. Maraming salamat po!

(Asif Ahmad is the British ambassador.)

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