By Mark Louis F. Ferrolino
For many years now, the Philippines and United Kingdom have worked persistently to foster more robust cultural, political and economic exchanges. Despite the two countries’ diverse historical backgrounds and the world’s changing geopolitical landscape, bilateral ties between the two nations have remained strong and intact. Their genuine partnership has prospered through the years and is becoming stronger as they continue to share mutual interest in achieving inclusive growth and addressing global challenges.
The relations between the Philippines and UK date back to the arrival of an English sea captain and privateer Francis Drake in Mindanao in 1579 after an almost three year circumnavigational voyage. Since then, the economic interaction between the two countries has continued, with the Philippines becoming part of the footprint of the East India Company and British companies, which led the way in building transportation infrastructure in the country.
Although Filipinos and British had long contact with each other, only on July 4, 1946 were the formal diplomatic relations between the two countries established. To further enrich these relations, former President Joseph E. Estrada issued the Proclamation No. 381 that declares Dec. 7, 2000 and every year thereafter as Philippine-British Friendship Day. But, in response to a request from the former UK Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Beckingham, made in 2008, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo moved the friendship day to Oct. 20 to coincide with the inauguration of the new office of the British Embassy in Taguig City.
Through the years, the Philippines and UK relationship has been nurtured by maximizing commercial opportunities for British businesses and focusing on significant areas of cooperation such as economic development, disaster planning, environment, and human rights issues.
At present, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the UK government are represented by British Ambassador to the Philippines, Daniel R. Pruce, who started his post in August. Although new at his job, Mr. Pruce already saw the big opportunities that would strengthen the links between the two countries.
“The fundamental responsibility of an ambassador for any country is to understand the environment they are working within. [When] they understand it, then they can explain it to their own government back home. And with that understanding and explanation, you can then identify ways, you can work together, you can collaborate, you can advance your shared interests,” Mr. Pruce said in a table discussion with the local press.
Mr. Pruce shared that even the Philippines and UK have distinct histories, the two nations have great similarities. Both countries share a strong interest in entertainment, performing arts, music and dance, among others. He pointed out that there is a commonality in the spirit of both countries that connects their lives.
“We are both island nations. We both have an outward looking perspective on the world. The sea is part and parcel of our heritage, of our lives, of our history. And I think that again creates a commonality,” Mr. Pruce said.
The Philippines and UK have always been open countries and welcoming to the each other’s residents. In particular, there are around 17,000 British nationals who are currently residing in the country, and more than 200,000 Filipinos who have made UK their home and place of work. Their presence have successfully contributed to the growth of each nation and have become instrumental in shaping the international relations.
In recent years, the Philippine-British partnership also goes well in terms of commercial and economic aspects. UK is the largest European investor in the country, with major investments in power, energy, agri-business, transport, water and financial services.
The number of British companies who have its presence in the Philippines has increased significantly. As Mr. Pruce said, there are more than 200 British brands in the country such as Marks & Spencer, Hackett and Jo Malone, which are enjoying a dynamic growth. Mr. Pruce shared that during his first few weeks here, many of the British companies approached the embassy and showed interest in doing their business in the country.
A couple of weeks ago, the British Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the Philippines, Richard Graham, returned to the country to further boost bilateral trade and investment. He met Bataan Governor Albert Garcia and discussed potential infrastructure development projects in Bataan.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Pruce also visited the Mariveles Port, the first purpose-built commercial bulk and multi-purpose terminal in the Philippines by the Seasia Nectar Port Services, Inc. (SNPSI). SNPSI is a joint-venture company between the British company Nectar Group Limited UK and local port operator Seasia Logistics Philippines, Inc. (SLPI). The port, which started its commercial operation last year, has helped the Bataan community in terms of generating jobs and attracting investments. UK Export Finance supported SNPSI for the supply of the bulk handling and cargo equipment for the first phase of the Mariveles Port project.
Mr. Pruce also shared that the British beef is coming back to the Philippines, following a new export deal estimated to be worth £34 million in 5 years. He is anticipating that the British product will be enjoyed by Filipinos next year.
On the other hand, the Jollibee Foods Corporation is eyeing the opening of its first store in the United Kingdom next year. “I’m sure it will be a very successful venture,” Mr. Pruce said. “It would be very popular in the UK and that’s only the beginning of the Jollibee’s setting in the UK.” For him, this demonstrates that the UK remains an attractive place to do business and offers fantastic potential for Filipino companies that want to expand operations overseas.
The British Embassy, under its newly appointed head, is going to be quite busy in the coming months as it holds the following activities: Infrastructure Mission on Nov. 22 to 23; Education and Skills Mission on Dec. 11 to 14; Construction Forum and Technology Mission in February 2018; and Mission to the Asian Development Bank in March 2018.
“Malaking karangalan para sa akin na maging British Ambassador sa Pilipinas at gusto kong mapalakas pa ang ating magandang relasyon. I think there are great opportunities ahead to work together across the whole Filipino government, Filipino society, Filipino business, right across every corners of the society to enrich the relations between our countries and serves to build a better future.”