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Opinion

‘Maraming salamat’

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Daniel Pruce - The Philippine Star

A couple of days ago I was in New Clark City, planting a Narra tree to mark the new Central Park – which will be the biggest public park in the Philippines in over half a century. The UK is helping realize this stunning vision – a wonderful green space, developed and delivered sustainably and inclusively, as a result of a solid partnership bringing together UK and Filipino expertise from the public and private sectors. For me it is a great example of how our two countries are increasingly collaborating to deliver positive change.

As I approach the very end of my four-year posting in the Philippines, I leave with great confidence that the UK and the Philippines will continue to strengthen their partnership in the years ahead.

We are working together more closely than ever before. Bilaterally, in important areas such as defence, security, trade and investment; and on the international stage, where we are tackling the big global issues. Just this week the UK’s Champion for Adaptation and Resilience, Minister Ann-Marie Trevelyan, paid a virtual visit to the Philippines as part of our preparations for the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow in November. Across the board we are working with government, business and civil society in the Philippines to ensure an ambitious outcome in Glasgow which helps preserve and protect our world for future generations in both our countries.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddy Boy Locsin’s telephone conversation with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab early last week illustrated the breadth of our relationship. The UK and the Philippines are putting in place the elements of a new Enhanced Partnership. This will provide new depth and structure to our shared activities. It encompasses the themes of climate change and the environment, defence, consular issues, political issues and economic and trade matters. It is a fitting way to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries, which we celebrate this year.

Alongside this strengthening collaboration between our governments, our people-to-people links are growing all the time. Just this week I was delighted to meet our latest cohort of Filipinos off to the UK later this year for their Chevening Scholarships. A vibrant and diverse group, each of them soon to embark on a year of study in a great British university and the unique experience of complete immersion in British culture and society. And, most important of all, each of them committed to return to the Philippines to contribute to the future of the country. It was an inspiring discussion.

In my time here I have been most proud of the work we have done in support of human rights and values, including media freedom, respect for minorities and inclusive development – all essential ingredients of any fully functioning democracy. The UK believes in fostering open, diverse and inclusive societies. The Philippines has a wonderful, vibrant media and CSO sector. It has been a privilege to work with them and to support their efforts at the local and national level.

Of course, when I arrived here in August 2017 I could not have anticipated the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Our health care systems, our economies, the very fabric of our societies have had to respond in the most trying of circumstances. And families around the world have suffered terrible personal tragedies.

The UK and the Philippines have worked together in the midst of this terrible adversity. Our many friends across the country helped us get thousands of stranded British tourists back to the UK at the very beginning of the pandemic. The UK’s strong support for the Covax Facility has already helped millions of doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine reach the Philippines. And it was a privilege to support the negotiations with AstraZeneca, which mean a further 17 million shots of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will give more Filipinos a ‘Dose of Hope.’

The UK will continue to support equitable access to safe and effective vaccines. And I was delighted that the embassy could help over 10,000 health care workers and LGU officials as they prepared to administer vaccines across the country.

In the UK many thousands of Filipino health care workers, many of them in our National Health Service, have been on the very front line of our COVID response. Both Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales have recently acknowledged the enormous contribution they have made to the UK through, as His Royal Highness put it, providing outstanding “care and comfort” to their patients.

My enduring memory of the Philippines will be of the friendship extended to me by the people. The work has been rewarding. COVID has forged an even closer partnership between us. The country is stunningly beautiful in its infinite variety. Its history and culture are fascinating. But ultimately what makes the Philippines unlike any other country I have ever served in is the warmth and generosity of its people. And to all of you I say an enormous “maraming salamat” today.

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

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