Vibrant democratic traditions
A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Daniel Pruce (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Manigong Bagong Taon po sa inyong lahat! 2019 will be an important year for both our countries. In the UK we will leave the European Union on 29 March, in line with the results of our referendum held in 2016. Here in the Philippines there will be two important popular votes, the first later this month in the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law and the second in the Mid-Term elections in May. A referendum, a plebiscite and country-wide elections are testimony to the vibrant democratic traditions common to both our countries.

2018 was a great year for our bilateral relations. In September Finance Secretary Dominguez led the biggest ever senior level delegation from the Philippines to visit the UK. This was tribute to our close commercial partnership. The UK remains the biggest European investor in the Philippines. Two-way trade and investment has now grown to almost £1.4 billion, while UK exports grew by 25 percent in 2017.

And Secretary Dominguez and his delegation were customers at the first of 25 Jollibee restaurants opening in the UK in the next five years!

Meanwhile growing numbers of British companies are active here in the Philippines – over 200, spanning all sectors – from retail to engineering.

And we are both committed to ensuring this commercial relationship can prosper in the future. Through our annual High Level Talks (most recently here in Manila last November) we are driving forward our Joint Statement of Intent on Enhanced Economic Cooperation. We were delighted when the government recently passed the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Act, inspired by some of our measures in the UK.

The links between our peoples are going from strength to strength. More Filipinos are choosing the UK to live, work, study and go on holiday. Nearly 250,000 now live in the UK. And we are the leading European holiday destination for Filipinos. We are granting more visas than ever!

Nearly 17,000 Filipinos are working in our National Health Service. I was delighted to see that one of them – Nurse Joy Ongcachuy – has just been awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work in the aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attack in June 2017.

Our Chevening Scholarships programme is growing rapidly. We sent a record 36 scholars to the UK last year and hope to send even more in 2019. Alongside this we have a dynamic and expanding Newton Agham programme, offering research grants and PhD scholarships in the fields of science and innovation.

And as we look to the wider world the UK and the Philippines are working together on the shared challenges facing today’s global community such as the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Climate Change, Organised Crime (our police forces signed their first ever memorandum of understanding last year) and international terrorism. I also hope that as we move through 2019 our two countries will be able to stand together in defence of the rules based international system which has served past generations so well.

I began by noting that the Philippines and the UK are both vibrant democracies. Our countries have proud histories of support for the institutions which guarantee the freedoms essential to any democracy. In 2019 the British Government will launch a global campaign in support of media freedom. I look forward to working closely on this with the full spectrum of our partners here in the Philippines.

Over the course of my diplomatic career I have learned from personal experience that the relationship between government and media can sometimes be bumpy. But I have enormous respect for the work of journalists around the world. They perform an important role in all our societies and we all have a strong interest in ensuring they are able to go about their profession with freedom and without fear. As the great British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said, “A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny.”

I look forward to working with all of the UK’s partners in the Philippines on all of these issues throughout 2019 as we continue to build an ever closer, richer and deeper relationship.

* * *

(Daniel Pruce?is the British Ambassador to the Philippines. Twitter @DanielPruce)

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