The Philippines’ historic colonial connections with Spain and the USA are well known. Far fewer people are aware of the historic connection between Britain and the Philippines, and Britain’s brief occupation of Manila in the 18th Century. This year marks the 250th anniversary of that event, which began in September 1762 when a British fleet led by Brigadier-General William Draper and Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish arrived in Manila Bay from Madras (now Chennai) in India.
The occupation was not for long: the British occupiers left again in July 1764. However, over the subsequent decades and centuries, Britons built increasing economic links with the Philippines, and were instrumental in developing foreign trade between the Philippines and the rest of the world. Today, the British occupation is a significant moment in our two countries’ shared history, but our relationship is forward looking and dynamic. It’s about shared values and interests in the modern world.
One enduring legacy of 1762-1764 is to be found in the City of Cainta, neighbouring Metro Manila. I had the pleasure to visit last week, and Mayor Mons Ilagan kindly hosted a welcome reception in my honour. During that reception I met members of Cainta’s Sepoy community: the descendants of Indian Sepoys, soldiers who served with the British forces in Manila, but who stayed on and married Filipinas after the British left. That community settled in Cainta, and although now thoroughly assimilated into Philippine society is proud of its heritage. The community is a reminder of the long historical association between Britain and the Philippines.
In Cainta I was received with characteristic Filipino hospitality and warmth. Mayor Ilagan also briefed me on the challenges his city faces, as it is especially vulnerable to flooding, and was badly affected by the very heavy rains last month. This was a reminder of the importance of tackling climate change in the Philippines, where increasing incidence of extreme weather has devastating consequences. Britain remains a strong partner for the Philippines in seeking international solutions to climate change. That’s part of the forward looking modern relationship with the Philippines which is what the British Embassy is all about – even when we take time out to recognise historical connections.