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Stephen Lillie » British Ambassador to the Philippines

Paalam, Pilipinas

When I was appointed British Ambassador to the Philippines four years ago a colleague congratulated me. You will have a fantastic time – just don’t try to change anything, he said. Over the years, and in different capitals, similar advice has been given to different foreign ambassadors here.  But it is no longer right. Such advice represents an old view of the Philippines – justified to some extent by history, … Read more »Paalam, Pilipinas

There is no greater prize than peace and security

My term as Ambassador in Manila is nearing an end.  I return one last time to a subject close to my heart — the Mindanao Peace Process. Once again the front pages suggest bumps in the road ahead. I arrived in the Philippines just under a year after the ill-fated “MOA-AD.” On my first visit to Mindanao the camps were still full of internally displaced people. International observers worried about … Read more »There is no greater prize than peace and security

Remembering Rizal

Feature image for:  Remembering Rizal

Yesterday was Independence Day. It falls the week before the birth anniversary of Jose Rizal, one of the most important figures in the Philippines’ journey towards independence. As we approach that anniversary it seems appropriate to pay tribute to the national hero.  Like all foreign ambassadors to the Philippines I began my office here by laying a wreath at his memorial in Luneta, almost four years ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, … Read more »Remembering Rizal

The many not the few

During the recent election campaign there was much discussion of political dynasties and how to implement the constitutional provision against them. Will the new Congress return to this debate, and what lessons can the UK share as another established democracy? The term dynasty is not widely used in British politics. It tends to conjure up images of Chinese history, or alternatively (for those of a certain age) of American soap … Read more »The many not the few

Extracting maximum benefit

One of the reasons why people talk positively about the Philippines’ economic prospects is the untapped potential in the mining sector. Stick a spade far enough into the ground and you might just find gold, silver, rare earth metals or other valuable minerals. Unfortunately, identifying where these minerals are has proved a lot easier than getting them out of the ground. However, the Philippines has just taken a step which … Read more »Extracting maximum benefit

The great creative force

A former US Governor-General of the Philippines Leonard Wood is famous – perhaps infamous – for saying that “the Filipino woman is the best ‘man’ in the Philippines”.  The 1921 statement, in which he described women as “the great creative force” could have been a rallying cry for women. If last week’s elections are anything to go by, it is being taken up.  Female candidates took three of the top … Read more »The great creative force

Modern day alchemy

For centuries the dream of many has been to create wealth out of nothing. In the Philippines, stories of Yamashita’s gold (or even Lim Ah Hong’s) still encourage people to go off to the countryside with their metal detectors.  I suspect this may prove to be a modern equivalent of alchemy: the hope of turning base metals in to gold.  But there are other more viable ways to turn nothing … Read more »Modern day alchemy

If you build it, they will come

It’s almost a year since President Aquino’s visit to London in 2012.  Arriving on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee weekend, the President felt some of the heritage and tradition that makes the UK a top draw for overseas tourists. And for his part, the President helped get the message out about all the fantastic things the Philippines has to offer British visitors. He posed on board one of London’s famous red … Read more »If you build it, they will come

The Philippines – safe to speak

Tomorrow, the 3rd May, is World Press Freedom Day. I confidently predict that this will be marked by the Star (and a number of other publications) appearing on my breakfast table as usual, featuring a wide range of stories. Some of them will interest me, some will amuse and some will annoy me. That’s part and parcel of living in a free society, with a free press. That’s the Philippines. … Read more »The Philippines – safe to speak

Patriotism or nationalism?

23 April was the feast-day of England’s patron saint, St George. Not surprisingly, St George’s Day is not a big deal in the Philippines. The greater significance of this date here may be 23 April 1946, when Manuel Roxas was elected to be the first President following independence. But even in England, the largest of the United Kingdom’s four nations, St George’s Day receives less attention than those of Scotland’s … Read more »Patriotism or nationalism?