British Embassy celebrates Queen Elizabeth II's 89th birthday (Business Mirror (Philippines))

More than 300 guests feasted on traditional meat pies, fish and chips, varying canapes, customized ice creams on sticks and English drinks at the British School in Taguig City as the British Embassy celebrated the 89th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.

British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad, in his speech during the reception, underscored the dynamic ties between the UK and the Philippines.

For my team in the British Embassy, the Philippines is a great place to live and work in. We enjoy your openness and appreciate the interest you take in our country. We see the Philippines as our natural partner as we work for prosperity and security, Ahmad said.

British diplomacy

Ahmad said the highlight of UK engagement in the Philippines last year was the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to Manila and Ormoc, her second visit to the country after 16 years.

Princess Anne went to Ormoc and saw the rehabilitation of homes, schools and communities and also met with the members of the International Olympic Committee.

Many Britons, who play an active role in the community service, and Filipinos, who hold British honors, had met Her Royal Highness. Ahmad expressed his gratitude to them and to the wider Filipino community, who made the Philippines a home away from home for 17,000 Britons living and working in the country.

The UK wants to continue its work with the Philippines to achieve a global agreement on climate change when the UN meets in Paris in December.

The UK joins other European Union (EU) member-states in calling for a robust international agreement that will regularly review and strengthen countries’ targets in the light of the below 2A‚ºC goal. The EU hopes to contribute to domestic greenhouse-gas emissions reduction target of at least 40 percent by 2030.

For the last seven years, the ambassador also said the UK has been involved in the Mindanao peace process.

As we get closer to the creation of the Bangsamoro, the UK will remain engaged. It is in our national interest, as well as the interest of every Filipino, to ensure that everyone in the republic has the opportunity to live better and more secure lives, Ahmad said.

Chevening Scholarships

Other than the support to the peace process, the ambassador also underscored its efforts in the field of higher education.

This year, the UK is set to send 28 students under the Chevening Scholarship Program for post-graduate studies-the biggest in the Asean region. Researchers and scientists are also high in the priorities of the UK in the country.

Two opportunities have opened for health-research collaborations under the Newton Fund.

The first is a P132.60-million funding for research on infectious diseases, which has been identified as a priority by the partners Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council for Health Research and Development and the UK Medical Research Council.

The second call, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, amounts to a combined P663 million for five countries in the Southeast Asia to fund research studies that contribute to increasing the health and medical research capacity in the Philippines, while also providing the opportunity to work with researchers in the UK, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Great British Festival

Because of its intention to further nurture people-to-people ties between the UK and the Philippines, the British Embassy has been holding its Great British Festival in Manila and in Cebu to bring UK culture, food, fashion, arts and education to the Philippines.

The Philippines has seen the emergence of more British brands and, according to Ahmad, business interlocutors from both the UK and the Philippines have spoken about the challenges and opportunities coming from the economic dynamism of the two countries, with the UK remaining to be the largest European investor in the Philippines.

The ambassador said the embassy has also made it easier for Filipinos to travel to the UK with 90 percent of the visa applications being approved.

He explained the Philippines is one of the few countries, where a decision about the applications can be accessible for a fee.

The UK has seen a 23-percent increase in the number of tourist visas issued to Filipinos, while an average of 134,000 Britons tour the Philippines annually.

Honoring two Filipinos

to cap the queen’s birthday celebration, Ahmad conferred the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) to Victoria Buenaventura and Hannah Teh. Buenventura is vice consul of the British Embassy and has been given the MBE for her service to the British community, most especially at the height of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan). Teh, who is a member of the consular staff, was also recognized for her exemplary service to British citizens also during the typhoon.

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, in a speech read by Undersecretary Jesus Yabes, cited the country’s deep historical and cultural ties with the UK.

Particularly cited was the recent Philippines-UK high-level meeting in London last December, which, according to del Rosario, proved to be very productive, with both parties reaffirming their mutual interest in forging cooperation agreements in education, science, culture and sports.