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UK-Philippine, why I’m optimistic about the future

Friday, May 2, 2008

As her Ministerial visit to the Philippines started the following op-ed was published in the daily Philippines Star. 


As I begin my first Ministerial visit to the Philippines I can’t help reflecting on the last time I was here - Marcos was in power, and the economy was in recession how things have changed! I have swapped my backpack for a Minister’s portfolio, and you have swapped your dictator for a democracy.


In Manila there are gleaming new tower blocks, malls full of the latest international brands and roads bustling with cars.  All testament to an impressive growth in the economy and an expanding middle class. Another change is the 200,000 Filipinos living in the UK compared to around 15,000 in the 1980s. Today there are increasing numbers of British tourists visiting the Philippines each year, the largest contingent that comes from Europe.


Last week in the UK I arranged to meet representatives of the Filipino community living there. We discussed various issues affecting their life, such as the UK’s migration system, the role of Filipinos in UK politics and their views of life back home. I was struck by the vibrancy of the Filipino community living in the UK. I found their experiences of UK life, and their perspective on developments in the Philippines, provided much food for thought.


These links between our two countries are complemented by a strong commercial relationship.  The UK was the largest foreign investor in the Philippines last year. This investment is good for the Philippines and good for Britain. During my visit I will be discussing with Ministers from the Philippine Government just how we can strengthen and extend economic reforms here to encourage even more beneficial business links.


The Philippines competes for inward investment with a number of neighbouring countries and further economic reform, specifically opening up your market to more investment, would make you even more attractive as an Asian base. This, in turn, would stimulate more economic growth, benefiting more of the population. As rising food prices become a world-wide concern, the need for an open and inviting economy becomes more pressing.


The UK and the Philippines share an approach to an important area within our two countries: negotiating peace in a part of the country scarred by violence.  Just as in Northern Ireland, Mindanao has great potential: fertile land, fantastic tourist spots and an abundance of people willing to work.  Yet it remains under-developed.  Some of its people still live haunted by memories of violence: ghosts that will not be laid to rest until the peace processes reaches a final agreement.


In the UK, we know the difficulties of negotiating a lasting peace.  The troubles in Northern Ireland lasted decades before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and its implementation was not easy.  But, as our experience shows, with the determination of both sides to forge a lasting peace it can be achieved. I hope that both sides will find the resolve to continue their push for an equitable and sustainable peace agreement. I look forward to discussing with Secretaries Ermita and Dureza ways in which the UK and the European Union might offer further assistance.


Like the UK, the Philippines also has an important role to play on the world stage.  Your voice is strong in the ASEAN region, and makes an important contribution to the UN.  We welcome the robust stance taken by President Arroyo on Burma at the UN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the World Economic Forum. The Burmese regime subject their people to horrendous abuses of human rights, including forced labour, with the persecution of political opponents including around 2000 political prisoners. The referendum planned for 10th May in Burma will not be free and fair, and the regime’s constitution is designed to entrench military rule. For the sake of the Burmese people, it is vital that we both stick to our principled positions and keep up the pressure on the regime.


I am looking forward to visiting the Philippines again, to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. The one thing I am sure will be the same is the famous warmth and charm of the Filipino people. Whilst that remains I am optimistic about the future for these islands, and confident that our two countries will continue our strong and close relationship.

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