This year, 2017, is the 255th anniversary of Britain’s invasion of the Philippines, which it ruled via the East India Company for two years.
After the British left in 1764 (voluntarily, as part of the Treaty of Paris) the country returned to the loving embrace of the Spanish Empire and the rest, as they say, is history.
To be fair, the British Empire was somewhat busy at the time. On the other side of the world some disgruntled Massachusetts smugglers were protesting against a tax cut (yes, cut) by dumping ship-loads of tea into Boston harbour; setting off all sorts of unnecessary silliness. (To be fair, again, what they set in motion ended up rather well for the so-called “United States”, which has rubbed along OK, despite being a republic.)
Also doing rather well are some former British colonies in South East Asia. Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are forging ahead, and Australia and New Zealand aren’t too shoddy.
So, what if the British had refused to sign the Treaty of Paris (which returned the Philippines to Spain, as a job-lot with Cuba) and stayed put?
As a self-confessed British patriot, and unreconstructed imperialist, Charles Deerhurst here presents his 21 reasons why the Philippines would be better now if the Union Jack had fluttered over these islands for a couple of hundred years:
1. Without all those years of ridiculous, ineffectual Spanish rule, English would be thoroughly ingrained in the country, not hit-and-miss as it currently is. There’s no doubt that a nationwide improvement in English would be a huge boost to the economy. It would also have developed its own distinct form by now, as with Singlish in Singapore, that would be a source of national pride rather than a slightly embarrassing legacy of American colonialism.
2. It would be more multicultural, with longstanding communities of Indian, Chinese, Sikhs and others. It’s impossible not to see how this Empire-era melting pot enriches life in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Close contact with different races might have helped create a more open-minded and adaptable local population.
3. The country wouldn’t have been called the Philippines. Us British didn’t tend to name whole nations after our monarchs, just cities, regions and states (Georgetown, Carolina, Victoria, etc). Who knows what name would have been chosen? But I doubt if it would have been one of the world’s most commonly misspelt countries. (What? One “L” or two? How many “Ps”? Oh, you use an “F” if it’s an adjective?)
4. The Filipinos would have got to meet the Irish who, until independence, were among the most enthusiastic builders and maintainers of the British Empire. As with many other corners of the world, they would have left a trace of their beautiful accent with the local population. The same can be said for the Welsh. (Have you ever noticed how any attempt at an Indian accent always ends up sounding Welsh? That’s no coincidence.)
5. And don’t forget the Scots! Despite their relatively small population, they also got into every corner of the Empire. One legacy of their presence is a tradition of kilt-wearing bagpipers featuring in military parades and other events (Such as in India, Pakistan, New York and Bethlehem). The changing of the guard at the Rizal Monument would be so much more entertaining with men in skirts belting out the music from Braveheart.
6. Oh, and then there’s military uniforms in general. It’s a universally acknowledged fact that us British do military pageantry like no other nation. With a dash of Filipino flair, the nation’s armed forces would look so much cooler when out on parade.
7. Protestantism. I know this is controversial, and I must stress that I have no personal religious affiliation whatsoever. But it can be argued that the form of Catholicism introduced by the Spaniards encouraged a top-down hierarchical mentality that still affects the country today. The priest would drone in Latin, tell you how to behave and make damn sure you knew your place. On the other hand, the form of soft Protestantism that we spread around the world tended to be more focused on doing good works and charity. And then there’s the whole birth control thing…
8. As well as condoms being more available, it could be argued that close proximity to the British might have acted as a birth control mechanism in its own right.
9. While we may not be famous as lovers, us British are renowned for our gardening skills. This has rubbed off on the nearby ex-colonies, and is arguably the rich compost from which a more generalised neighbourhood pride can bloom. Beautiful gardens make beautiful streets, which lead to beautiful cities.
10. And then there’s littering. People in Hong Kong, Singapore, etc, seem to understand that dropping trash in the streets affects the wider community and is nothing other than pure selfishness. Why can’t the Filipinos get this? I blame the Spanish, the scruffy beggars.
11. Can I, as an Englishman, honestly say our culinary habits would have improved the country? Well, I’m going to try (with the honest proviso that I love Spanish cuisine and whenever I visit America I double in size). The fact is, us British tended to immerse ourselves in the foods we found in our colonies — even to this day our national dish is curry, from India. We probably would have encouraged the Filipinos to keep hold of their food traditions, adding just a few essentials like Worcestershire Sauce (essential for a Bloody Mary) and good whisky. Also, we would have discouraged the locals from pouring piles of sugar into their bread, and taught them to make decent bacon.
12. No mention of the British Empire can fail to mention infrastructure. To this day, the British-built Indian railway network transports 13 million people per day. From what I can see, the Spanish left no infrastructure at all… unless churches, walls and prisons count.
13. These railways would undoubtedly have served a network of “hill stations” to provide colonial administrators some relief from the stifling summer heat. To be fair, the Americans did adopt this idea at Bagio, but failed to create a quick and easy way to get there.
14. Another legacy of British rule tends to be a tradition of a fearless, free press. Think of The Straits Times or The South China Morning Post. These fine publications (published in English) continue to “speak truth unto power”. Not that the Filipino media isn’t decent enough, it just doesn’t have the same heritage and longevity.
15. The elite in ex-Empire colonies continue to send their children to British boarding schools, where they learn a measure of humility. They may live in a palace with uniformed staff at home, but when they get to St Bastard’s School for Boys, or whatever, they find themselves in a world of sanctioned bullying, cold showers and early morning runs. It seems Ferdinand Marcos recognised the benefit of this “character building” and sent his son to an English school run by Benedictine Monks. How the poor lad survived with a name like Bongbong is anybody’s guess. He must have been teased mercilessly.
16. Whenever I travel from the Philippines to Malaysia, Hong Kong or Singapore, the first thing that strikes me is how sensibly people drive (and correctly, on the left). The contrast couldn’t be greater. Cars are properly maintained, the roads are in good condition and drivers will even dip their lights at night. True, other parts of the old Empire are quite different (India, for example) but there must be some lingering respect left behind for Her Majesty’s Highways elsewhere.
17. On a practical note, it’s likely that the Philippines would now be a member of the Commonwealth. This would probably translate into easier travel to countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and the chance to maybe win some medals at The Commonwealth Games (Olympics-lite). They would also get the occasional royal visit, which always cheers people up.
18. Talking of cheering up, the Filipinos don’t drink enough tea. I don’t mean horribly sweetened iced tea, but proper hot tea, with milk, in a cup and saucer. It’s refreshing, healthy, calming, hydrating and boosts productivity. The alternatives are terrible — ghastly processed “3 in 1” powder, Emperador Brandy or shabu. I have no doubt that if the Philippines was a nation of tea drinkers, Duterte wouldn’t have needed to unleash his war on drugs.
19. Can we talk about guns? There are just far, far too many in the Philippines. That simply wouldn’t have happened under British rule. Hell’s teeth, in the UK even the police don’t carry firearms. I mean, does it really take some dude with a pump-action shotgun to guard a small-town supermarket?
20. And what about sport? What does the Philippines ever win? Word to the wise: You are never going to be a great basketball nation because you just aren’t tall enough. If the Brits had been in charge we would have introduced sports that you could really shine at, such as soccer and cricket. There would also be a thriving horse racing scene with tracks in every city.
21. And finally, there would be pubs. Good old-fashioned pubs. Not bars, not clubs, but pubs. All selling delicious warm beer to people with terrible teeth.