The Philippines and the United Kingdom have had a long history of interaction dating back to the Sir Francis Drake’s landing in Mindanao in 1579 after an almost three year circumnavigational voyage on board Golden Hind. Economic interaction would define the relationship between the two countries over several centuries, with the Philippines becoming part of the footprint of the East India Company and British companies leading the way in building transportation infrastructure in the Philippines. The Second World War also saw the two countries fighting on the same side.
Formal diplomatic relations were eventually established between the Philippines and the UK on 4 July 1946. Since then, the two governments have worked tirelessly to foster more robust political, economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
The modern era in Philippine-British relations could be said to have begun in 1986 with the visit to Manila of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to express support for the new government of then President Corazon Aquino. It was followed by a visit of then Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1988 in an effort to chart a new direction for the bilateral relations. The following year, that visit was reciprocated by then Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, who became the first Philippine ministerial-level official to visit Britain.
Through the years, the relationship has been nurtured by frequent exchanges at the highest levels of government as well as a very healthy economic interaction. Former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have undertaken official visits to the United Kingdom, and separately by their respective Foreign Secretaries. On the British side, members of the Royal Family (such as the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York) and Cabinet secretaries and ministers have undertaken official visits to the Philippines, although it should be pointed out that HM the Queen and an incumbent Prime Minister have yet to do so.
Similarly, there is also a frequent exchange of visits between parliamentarians of both co
untries. The most recent were the visit to London of a Philippine Senate delegation in 2009 and the consecutive visits of British House of Commons delegations in 2009 and 2010.
Importance of the Relations
Over the last decade, relations between the two countries have been marked by a keener British interest in Philippine economic and political developments, as shown by a sharp rise in development assistance, the number and frequency of high-level visits to Manila, and the significant increase in the volume of trade and investments. Britain is currently the largest European investor in the Philippines and likewise the biggest tourism market in the continent at 90,000 visitors annually.
In terms of foreign affairs, Britain has remained a vital partner in the Mindanao peace process. It was an active founding member of the International Contact Group and continues to express firm support for the revival of the negotiations and its successful and effective conclusion.
The Philippines and the UK likewise have manifested convergent interests in global and regional matters, particularly in counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, the promotion of human rights and the democratization of Myanmar.
Equally important to Philippine interests is the protection and promotion of the welfare of the growing Filipino community in the United Kingdom. Over the past 20 years, the number of Filipinos living and working in the Britain has increased by more than 833%: from around 18,000 in 1986 to about 250,000 in 2010. Filipinos work in a variety of sectors, such as information technology, engineering, aviation, education, hospitality and healthcare.
Most notably, the UK has been relying on the professional expertise of thousands of Filipino workers to fill critical gaps in the delivery of health services, exemplified by the influx of Filipino nurses whose skills and professional dedication have made them an essential part of the UK National Health Service. Over the past six years, more than 20,000 Filipinos have been recruited into the health service, most of whom serve in the National Health Service while others work in the independent healthcare sector, mostly private nursing homes.
There are also a significant number of Filipino scholars, many leaders in their respective fields, who have been selected for postgraduate programs in British universities.
To date, there are about 100 Filipino community associations/charities in the UK that are registered with the Philippine Embassy.