By Mark Louis F. Ferrolino, Special Features Writer
Amidst the world’s changing geopolitical landscape, the bilateral ties between the Philippines and the United Kingdom (UK) remain firm and indestructible. Through the years, both nations have helped each other out in times of crisis and have worked as one in attaining common goals. The genuine partnership of the two island nations continues, marking its 18th year of Friendship Day this Oct. 20.
In terms of culture, history and form of government, the Philippines and UK are indeed far different from each other. However, these differences seem to be outnumbered by great similarities and shared values nurtured over the years.
“The UK is a dynamic, modern and diverse country. Proud of our past and looking confidently to our future. Our links with the Philippines stretch back across the centuries. And I see great potential for our two countries to become even closer in future,” British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel R. Pruce told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview.
At the core of the Philippine-British partnership lies the strong links between its people. The two countries have always been open and welcoming to each other’s residents.
More and more Brits — nearly 17,000 at the last count — are coming to the Philippines to live and work. On the other side, there are over 200,000 Filipino nationals who have settled in UK, who, according to Mr. Pruce, make an enormous contribution to the country.
“Fourteen thousand Filipino health care workers are in our own National Health Service, bringing their high level of professional qualification and strong caring skills to our country,” he said.
Furthermore, a growing number of students from the Philippines are coming to the UK because of the many opportunities it has been offering in education. This includes students on scholarship programmes such as the Chevening Scholarships (future leaders’ scholarship) programme, and research grants and PhD scholarships under the Newton Agham Program.
This year, 36 Filipino Chevening scholarships were awarded by the British government, the biggest contingent from the Philippines since the UK scholarship program began in 1983.
Four PhD scholars have also been sent to the UK, funded by the Newton Agham Program, with matched support from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).
On top of these scholarships, the British government and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) are jointly awarding 10 large-scale three-year research grants that focus on health and environment.
Newton Agham also provides support to DoST-funded researchers through the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship Program, an intensive training course on innovation to build capacity for entrepreneurship and commercialization.
Meanwhile, through the British Council and CHEd, the UK has been able to develop a remarkable program of transnational education, a provision of education from institutions in one country to students in another.
There are now 17 joint Masters degree programs in a broad range of disciplines being prepared between 10 Philippine and nine UK universities to be offered from academic year 2018. All of which are relevant to the public and private sector priorities of the country.
“The UK hopes to see further liberalization and advanced access in higher education in the Philippines. We want to provide wider options for Filipinos to have access to a range of international programs and be the Philippines’ partner to internationalize education in the country. Through transnational education, Filipinos can get a British degree without leaving the country just like in other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore,” Mr. Pruce said.
The relationship between the Philippines and the UK encompasses a range of commercial and economic ties in both directions
At present, over 200 British companies are operating in the Philippines — with many more eager to come. On the other hand, Jollibee Foods Corp. is set to open its first outlet in London on Oct. 20. There’s also the recent multi-million pound acquisition of Integrated Micro-Electronics, Inc., a subsidiary of Ayala Corp., of UK-based company Surface Technology International Enterprises Ltd. in electronic contract manufacturing.
Trade between the two nations remains upbeat. UK continues to be the number one European investor in the country with an amount reaching to £1 billion. Two-way trade and investment has now grown to almost £1.4 billion, while UK exports grew by 25% last year.
“The UK is working with the Philippines to improve trade policy. Last December, a Statement of Intent on enhanced economic cooperation was adopted by the UK and the Philippines at the High Level Dialogue in London. This covers sectors like infrastructure, energy, education, health and ICT; with capital market development and SME supply chain boost also figuring in discussion. Program support continues to help improve the countries business environment, covering competition policy, transparency and ease of doing business,” Mr. Pruce said.
To further boost the contribution of the Philippines and UK for the growth of each nation, Mr. Pruce believes that both countries should continue to exchange ideas and expertise from research via programs like Newton Agham, by providing education opportunities for future leaders through the Chevening Scholarships, and aiding the transport challenges locally through an upcoming infrastructure program discussed during the recent Economic Roadshow held last Sept. 24 to 26 in the UK.
“I am eager to see the relations between the UK and the Philippines continue to flourish in the years ahead, becoming stronger, richer and deeper,” Mr. Pruce said.
Meanwhile, in line with this year’s UK-Philippines Friendship Day celebration, the British Embassy is partnering with Football for Humanity to hold a football clinic where children from different charities will come together to learn how to play football.
“I can say that football is more popular than any other sport in the UK. It’s part of our culture. In fact, Britain is considered to be the Home of Football,” Mr. Pruce said.
The embassy, through its social media platforms, will also do features of notable Filipinos and British citizens who have built strong ties between the UK and the Philippines through business, art, and education.