PH-UK partnership and interdependence
I am visiting Manila almost a year to the day since Supertyphoon “Yolanda” smashed its way across the Visayas. The typhoon claimed many Filipino lives, and indeed a few British ones, too. People from the Philippines and countries around the world stepped up to help in every way possible. Many lessons can be learned. One is that in the modern world, in the face of many risks and uncertainties, we need to help and support each other. That should be a theme of the partnership between the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and I am pleased that we are indeed working together in many ways. During my visit, I will meet a wide range of senior friends and partners, including Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. We have much to discuss.
I head an institution, the British Foreign Office, which leads the United Kingdom’s efforts to deal with crises around the world. In the past year, we have activated the Foreign Office Crisis Centre no less than 13 times. For Yolanda, our prime minister used the crisis mechanism we normally use for emergencies within the United Kingdom. Cabinet ministers covering defense, aid, finance and foreign affairs came together as a task force. Our role in the Foreign Office was to coordinate UK assistance to the Philippines, and to trace the British citizens who were caught up in the disaster. In a short space, we went from a British Embassy presence of around 200 to over 1,400 diplomats, aid workers and military supporting Philippine response efforts. The people of Britain as donors and taxpayers contributed over P14 billion.
What did we learn? That in crisis response, institutional capacity, speed and clarity of action are vital. So are internal government and intergovernmental coordination, prioritization and coherence in joint work.
Another recent and dramatic example of how the world needs to tackle crisis together is the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. In an age of mass travel and mobility, no country is unaffected, not even island-nations like the United Kingdom and the Philippines. A strategic international response, through bilateral and multilateral partnerships, is essential for every nation’s wellbeing. The Philippines, with over 10 million overseas Filipino workers and with many more dependent on the remittances they send back home, has a major interest in global and regional security.
We must also work together on the long-term underlying issues which can give rise to immediate crises, none more so than climate change. While “building back better” is important for the Visayas, a global agreement is required to address the basic problem. The international community has set itself the target of reaching agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Summit in Paris at the end of 2015. We are behind schedule and need to move fast if we are to head off a future in which more and more powerful storms could hit countries like the Philippines.
The United Kingdom and the Philippines have also become partners in conflict resolution through our experiences in Northern Ireland and Mindanao. This week, a delegation of Philippine members of Congress is visiting Northern Ireland to see some of the policies that the United Kingdom has introduced to enhance regional devolution, to encourage community reconciliation, reform, and economic development, and to improve policing. Our experience has been positive. Devolution does not mean any loss of sovereignty, and I hope others can benefit from the experience and inspiration of the Philippines as the Bangsamoro becomes a long-awaited reality.
In the area of prosperity and economic growth, the United Kingdom and the Philippines are trading and investing together more than ever before. Greater engagement with countries like the United Kingdom will provide the sustainable growth that the Philippines wants and needs.
Britons and Filipinos are getting to know each other better, too. Tourism and visits between our two countries are rising fast. The number of Filipino visitors to the United Kingdom has increased by 24 percent this year. And over 123,000 Britons visited the Philippines in 2013, the highest number so far. These links are good for jobs and growth, but they also help build mutual understanding and cultural contact. At a time of misunderstanding and division in many parts of the world, we are fortunate that our two countries have a strong foundation to build on.
The British Embassy in Manila and the Philippine Embassy in London are important parts of the partnership. At peak times in the year, our embassy has 200 staff members, 160 of them Filipinos. One reason for this is that we have made Manila a global and regional hub for the British Foreign Office’s finance, human resources and visa operations. We are benefiting from the thriving BPO sector in the Philippines that is globally competitive.
The United Kingdom and the Philippines are geographically far apart. But our shared values and commitment to trade, investment, human rights, the United Nations and a rules-based international system underpin our growing partnership. Since my last visit in 2011, the progress here is clear to see. By acting together, we can pursue our common objective to deliver prosperity, security and wellbeing for our people.
Simon Fraser is the permanent undersecretary at the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.