(08/06/2012) On his first-ever visit to the UK, President Benigno Aquino III was busy building trade links and seeking inward investment for the Philippines. He attended a lunch hosted by the Foreign Office and the Lord Mayor of London with David Cameron, William Hague, the Duke of York and “senior business representatives”. During the visit Shell announced that they will invest over US $1.6 billion for the development of a natural gas import and re-gasification terminal in the Philippines. Eulogising Mr Aquino, William Hague said: “This is the president’s first visit to Europe. It’s an honour and a sign of our growing relationship with this dynamically developing country that he has chosen to visit the UK”.

While the president was being feted by the UK government and business interests in London, there was disquiet amongst human rights groups, who are concerned about Aquino’s failure to tackle human rights abuses taking place back home. The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines in the UK (CHRP) said the human rights situation in the Philippines had not improved since President Aquino came to power, and criticised him for not implementing the recommendations put forward by the former UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston who visited the country in 2007 to investigate murders and disappearances of human rights and labour activists.

During the recent visit, the CHRP handed an open letter to President Aquino stating its concern “with economic partnerships being forged between the UK and Philippines, with current UK investments in the Philippines already causing human rights abuses, such as the proposed mining project of Xstrata in Tampakan, where a recent fact finding mission saw increased militarization in the area and other rights infringements against tribal communities”.

Speaking to UNISON, a CHRP spokesperson said: “There must be an ethical dimension to any trade with the Philippines which ensures that the UK government is not engaging with countries that participate in, or fail to investigate, human rights abuses. At the moment in the Philippines there is a contradiction between the image President Aquino is keen to project to the world of a ‘dynamically developing country’, and the grim reality for those who suffer gross violations at home”.

UNISON is affiliated to CHRP and continues to support workers’ groups and other human rights groups in the Philippines in their campaigns for decent work, pay and conditions, and the right to belong to a trade union without fear of discrimination.