Speaking the local language, strengthening UK-PHL links

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BRITISH Ambassador Daniel Pruce is eagerly looking forward to a fruitful four-year stint in the Philippines, anticipating the many opportunities to advance the relations between Manila and London.

He even went further to learn Tagalog in order to get a better feel of the Filipino soul.

In Photo: Ambassador Daniel Pruce addressed Filipino-Chevening students during their send-off gathering.

“I’m still studying; so now,  nagaaral ako ng Tagalog pero  napakahirap ito para sa akin,  samakatuwid,  kailangan ako mag-practice (I am studying Tagalog, but for me it is very challenging; therefore, I have to practice it more),” the new envoy of the United Kingdom to the Philippines stated slowly, but commendably.

Pruce is forgiven for the difficulty of learning our Austronesian-based language. Like all foreigners imbibing it, he used the formal form  samakatuwid, (informal:  kung ganoon) which is seldom enunciated by the common Juan.

(Those who bandied the word, as a joke goes, are from Bulacan, the provincial heart of Tagalog-speaking natives, articulated by the province’s poets like Francisco Balagtas and Marcelo del Pilar, a prolific writer, lawyer, journalist, and Freemason, known by his  nom de plume  Plaridel.)

“Yeah, it’s a beautiful language…  napakaganda; it is challenging, but I feel very honored to have the opportunity to learn [it]. It really helps [in understanding] the country.”

He said he is aware of the history of Tagalog, Filipino, as well as the diversity of languages and dialects in the Philippines since it is an educational exercise for him.

“But I hope if I can persist with the language and try to  matutunan ito  (learn it well), I will be able to use it effectively at work,” he went on conversing in Taglish, an evolved form of the national language—an amalgam of Tagalog and English.

 Deep links

PRUCE has spent 27 years as a diplomat, skilled at his craft, peppering his language with superlatives—signs of sheer passion and love of his job.

“It’s exciting to be here at the beginning of four years, with all of these opportunities ahead of me. I’m sure there will be challenges along the way. That’s part of the job,” he related to the  BusinessMirror  shortly after recently visiting a UK-funded project in Mariveles, Bataan.

new ambassador formally assumed his post in June and immediately waded into his work after Asif Ahmad (another Tagalog-speaking English diplomat) and predecessor who is now High Commissioner to Jamaica.

The Ambassador represents Her Majesty, The Queen and the UK government in the country to which they are appointed. They are responsible for the direction and work of the Embassy and its Consulates, including political work, trade and investments, press and cultural relations, as well as visa and consular services.

After surveying the Philippines’s performance and taking a brief tour in a commercial district, he concluded, “This is a dynamic and vibrant country with a great sense of friendship and partnership with the UK.”

He added, “My objective is to contribute to those and help deliver for both of our countries.”

The Englishman said he walked around Manila and saw lots of British brands like Marks & Spencer exposed to the Filipino consumer. “They are all here, very prominent and very successful.”

“I think it’s superb [that] we got British products being distributed through great Filipino companies as well, so you can get [UK-based] products [locally].”

The UK rep said currently, there are 200 British companies doing brisk business in the country.

“We are still the European Union’s primary investor; there is a growing number of Filipino companies interested in investing in the UK,” he noted, adding they have just announced that a local fast-food chain is heading its way to his country.

He commented on the Filipino fast-service restaurant’s impending arrival in Britain: “I’m thrilled about that; it’s a tribute to the good commercial relations between our two countries. Part of that, is the UK [being an ideal place] to do business.”

The envoy relayed that his country also works very closely with the Philippines in all range of international issues, “be that in security [or addressing] great global challenges such as climate change, organized crimes and organized terrorism”.

He said the UK is an important partner in all multilateral discussions and revealed that “Filipinos are a great source of people links that we have.”

“We have more than 20,000 Filipino nationals working in the UK, making massive and important contributions to our country. Even our national health service alone has 14,000 [of your countrymen who comprise] a significant portion of the UK health-care community.”

On the other hand, he noted there is a growing number of British citizens coming over to our shores on holidays, with some seeking permanent residency.

“The last count [has about] 15,000 British nationals living here,” Pruce added.

“So the links between us are strong and I hope it gets stronger; we are working very hard to improve [specifically] the educational ties between our two countries.”

 Comprehensive engagements

THE envoy, who started in the UK Foreign Service in 1990, said they are in discussion with the Commission on Higher Education to “thicken the links between British universities and Filipino institutions to develop a joint program.”

With the project crystallizing next year, he noted, “it’s very exciting.”

Asked to elaborate, he said there are ten Philippine universities and nine in the UK “working together to develop 17 joint programs in a range of disciplines”.  

He said the delivery mechanism would vary but the fundamental principle is that they would enable students in the Philippines to have access to qualifications and a British university to sponsor their tuition fees.

“That means they could study here in the Philippines, perhaps some kind of distant learning or short-term contract with the sponsoring British institution. It’s really an innovative way of delivering high-quality British education in partnership with Filipino institutions, making it available to more people in the Philippines.”

Pruce was with UK Trade Minister Richard Graham MP on September for a tour of the Nectar Group facilities in Bataan.  Seasia Nectar Port Services Inc. is building a dry-bulk terminal in Mariveles town, a joint venture between Seasia Logistic Philippines, Inc. and Nectar Group Ltd. This is one of the projects funded by UK Export Finance or UKEF, which has a deep pocket of  £4 billion to lend to Philippine investors.

He also jointly celebrated with Graham the return of British beef back to Filipino tables after an absence of 20 years.  (See Envoys & Expats October 8 issue).

“It’s a great breakthrough. The Philippines lifted the ban [more than] a month ago and British beef businessmen can now engage in the Philippines.”

He made a further pitch for the meat by sampling a raw, thin slice and a steak serving in a lunchtime launch to members of the local media at a resorts-casino in Pasay City.  Later at dinner, he served the beef to some senators at his home in Forbes Park.

Pruce insists on the high quality of their beef products and their pedigree “because of the system we have in the UK. We now have a fantastic, premium-grade meat which I’m confident will very quickly establish itself in the market here.”

He said they have several breeds of cattle and a complete range of cuts, but admits that market forces still will determine the outcome of their success.

The UK rep wants to see the presence of  more British products in local outlets and to market them successfully “to contribute to the Philippine economy, and attract more Filipino investments into the UK as well”.

True-blue diplomat

AFTER joining the diplomatic service, Ambassador Pruce immersed himself in a range of jobs, including two stints in Brussels overseeing their trade policy there.

 “I was the spokesman; I worked for Tony Blair when he was the Prime Minister as part of his media team.”

He was posted in Bangkok as deputy ambassador from 2008 to 2012, then was deputy ambassador in Madrid for four years.

Prior to these assignments, he also spent time in Macedonia working with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization communications team.

“I had a little bit of time back in the UK to learn Tagalog,” he disclosed.

For sports, Pruce is into running and enjoys “watching football, but I’m strictly an armchair fan. I used to play when I was younger, but not so much now.”

“One of my resolutions I have during my time here is to get into basketball, which I know is big [with Filipinos]. I played…at school badly. But I will try to familiarize myself with the sport and maybe start following a team. I’ll see what recommendation I get in terms of the team I should root for.”

He claims being enamored by the country’s natural beauty, its flora and fauna, and looks forward to explore the wildlife and birdlife in our mountains and forests. Yet, this compatriot of Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill also wants to show his Shakespearean side.

“Your (Philippine) literature and the arts have a rich and artistic history, which  I [I want to be] familiar with. [You have a] very vibrant and contemporary artistic scene as well, which I’m looking forward to be part of while I’m here,” hinting of the Francis Bacon, the painter, in him speaking.

“I feel extremely lucky. This is a job I’ve always wanted to do for many years and I feel very honored to have the opportunity to be here, to serve my country and hopefully to contribute to the good relations between our two countries.”

Indeed, spoken like a true-blue diplomat.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano



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