Mabuhay, Canada!

HINDSIGHT - HINDSIGHT By Josefina T. Lichauco () - January 23, 2002 - 12:00am
As I listened to Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines, H.E. Robert Collette, deliver his remarks at the opening of the CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) session during the 27th Philippine Businessmen’s Conference, I remembered the strong bond of cooperation and friendship between our country and Canada that I personally experienced. This started a number of months after the People Power Yellow Revolution.

The telecommunications sector was removed from the priority list by USAID at the time when the DOTC was about to undertake the critical reforms of demonopolization and liberalization. In helplessness we turned to CIDA for the grant support that we so badly needed in order to be able to do it right. It did not come immediately for which reason the Asian Development Bank, appreciating the urgency and the justifications, came in to help out. Armed with an ADB grant, it was Teleconsult of Canada that won the bidding for the consultancy. And after the ADB effort ended, it was Teleconsult that managed to help the DOTC get CIDA funding...from then on, we had a succession of some of the best minds and some of the nicest Canadian men and women "holding hands" with the Filipino crew for more than a decade...Ray Marchand being brother to a Canadian senator, politically oriented, was a keen policy expert who, some years after his tenure ended talked to me from Canada about the possibility of coming back to the Philippines. There was Stu MacPherson, kind and soft-spoken but sharp (in fact, very sharp) who of course drew from his tremendous experience as a high-powered government functionary in telecom and who gave us the best insights into some of the most difficult issues. I have always felt good about his straightforward uncluttered approach to problem-solving. Of course we will always remember Victor Banning and wife Judy who spread their charm so much that the Filipinos could not let them go. Hence, when Vic’s stint ended, he found himself back in the Philippines because Judy stayed on at the ADB. Youthful Duncan Sharp, the technical expert, lived up to his family name and I understand after his stint in the Philippines, became so in demand in Asia. Of course, it is difficult to ever forget Bob Rothery, the privatization expert, and what happened to him here in our country. He fell in love with our Lyn Lozada, an extremely attractive and efficient DOTC functionary, stole her from the department and married her posthaste. Lyn now works at the Canadian embassy. Bob fits the billing of the strong, silent, serious guy. I guess it is the strong silent type that manages always to stage a coup and get his heart’s desire. It was our stint with John Glover, the computerization expert, that gave us one nice surprise in the person of his wife for we found out later on that she was a Baptist preacher and carried her work here in the Philippines with the Baptist community.

It will be difficult to forget Tony Gardiner who made his inspection visits every now and then – very keen, absolutely gentlemanly, it was always easy to achieve a meeting of the minds with him.

And our very own Kit Galema, young but already a former Lyceum dean, who joined the Canadian team, my favorite, with a lot of heart and soul, but Kit has migrated with his wife and kids to Toronto and I have indeed lost touch with him.

I will be remiss if I left out the leader of Teleconsult Mark Lopianowski and his wife Eva – one of the nicest couples in this great big world that I have ever met. His excellent skills in organization, a brilliant analytical mind, wonderful disposition and friendliness won him the affection of all of us that made up the DOTC crew. A Catholic of Polish ancestry, Mark’s popularity went beyond the DOTC gate to the Makati village community where he resided with Eva, so that when it became time to cut the umbilical cord that tied him to the DOTC crew, all of us choked in sadness. There was, by the way, Roger Mandriak who was the administrative functionary, but Roger, though Canadian, has been married to a beautiful Filipina, Annie Lopez, and is therefore almost Filipino, for he has lived in our country for decades and decades and adopted the country as his own. We, too ,were fortunate to work with very intelligent and very pretty Linda Gibson even for a short while on the administrative end.

So, the umbilical cord was cut, but the transfer of technology was real and genuine, and I think the telecom crew at the DOTC, led by my favorite engineer Aurora Rubio, came through with flying colors. This gifted division has to be more genuinely appreciated and fully utilized, though. No surprise policies and mandates should ever be inflicted suddenly and from out of the blue from "dubious" sources. I salute this excellent DOTC team and will never ever forget them.

There had been fortunately several renewals of the grant money, the last renewal having been applied to the giant task of evolving the masterplan for a PII (Philippine Information Infrastructure) through what was called the PIIPS (Philippine Information Infrastructure Policy Study), undertaken with great collaboration from the private sector and other relevant agencies of government;

One high point in my own personal adventure with Canada was meeting Madame Huguette Labelle, then lady president of CIDA. It was only October so I never really expected the kind of blizzard that welcomed me in Ottawa on the day of my visit to the office of one of the nicest and sharpest women I have ever met. As I crossed the icy pavement to enter the building that housed her office, and in spite of the great care that accompanied what I knew was going to be a difficult exercise with fairly high heels, the expected did in fact happen. Teetering and certainly off balance, I was falling, but in a jiffy, with two huge steps, Mr. Hubert Simard, tall at six feet plus, CIDA’s supervising officer for the Philippines who was waiting for me at the entrance of the building, caught me as I struggled for balance and saved the day and my bones from what could have been not only an embarrassment but a tragic fracture likewise. I remember Monsieur Simard as a person always receptive to our requests for additional support, and was extremely thorough in his forays into the kind of work the consultants were providing. So were the other CIDA officials before him, like Ron Baird and Rhondra Gossen, who preceded Hubert. So was Beth Aguilar, a livewire of a hardworking liaison officer.

Recovered from the near accident and exhilarated by the salvation provided by Monsieur Simard and my guardian angel, I proceeded to my meeting with CIDA’s chief, a member of the world’s female gender who indeed looked as feminine, elegant, and as gracious as they come. After the exchange of gifts I found out she had the rank of deputy minister in the government and that she also cherished her family beyond all else. After discussing the issues and problems of the ongoing effort and the critical need to complete it, I felt that this lady could not but positively react to the plight of another lady (it is this gender "thing" that helps me many times in various dimensions). I found out a couple of months after, that I was correct. Work went on and we were able to complete the enormous task, including a timely updating of the National Telecom Development Plan (NTDP), but were caught unprepared and stunned by the unstudied entry of a plan to divide the country into more than 10 service areas called the Service Areas Scheme. Life in government can be like that, by the way.

We went through three knowledgeable and supportive Canadian ambassadors to whom we are grateful starting with H.E. Andre Simard, no relative of Hubert; H.E. Stephen Heeney who became a good friend; and of course, H.E. John Treleaven with whom I had breakfast on his latest trip to the Philippines and is a very active member of Canada’s private sector.

Today, another great Canadian flash of support comes in the person of a young and very accomplished Canadian gentleman Peter Kucherepa. I met him at the 27th Businessmen’s Conference outside the hall where Ambassador Collette and a team of speakers were giving the participants insights about CIDA work. Peter was still gushing like a schoolboy which I thought he was not too long ago, over what he exclaimed was "the greatest speech of a president I have ever heard." This speech I sadly missed because of a last-minute change in schedule. It however elated me that the young man was referring to the speech of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

I found out soon after, that the young Mr.Kucherepa is the director of Junior Team Philippines (JTP), a program that was launched three years ago in the Philippines designed to equip Filipino youth with the right skills, attitudes, and knowledge to become "global entrepreneurs." Spearheaded by "Global Vision," a Canadian NGO, JTP also aims to educate Filipino university youth on international business relations, entrepreneurship and international marketing.

Peter Kucherepa is indeed a missionary today. Graduating at age 22 at the top of his class from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, ranked Canada’s top school for international finance and management, and rated by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times as one of the best international management programs worldwide, he indeed does have the vision and is certainly inspired by a mission. I could sense his enormous dedication in the effort to provide the educational resources to the Filipino youth in order that they attain in this age of globalization not only the global perspective but much needed industrial competitiveness as well. The qualified students chosen have met with Canada’s business, education and government leaders. The program has brought promising Filipino youth to Canada to explore the potentials of bilateral trade and cultural relations between the two countries. A statement from the Canadian embassy says: "We want to help the Filipino youth build a stronger Philippines with a prospering economy."

JTP is presently recruiting outstanding university students and young entrepreneurs to take part in the 2002 trade mission to Canada. Ambassador Collette, in his endorsing letter, said that not only does JTP foster friendship and contacts with Canadians of all walks of life, but the most important factor is the fact that it helps local Philippine businesses explore the Canadian market.

Canada – an expanse of land of about 10 million square kilometers with a sparse population of 29 million, home to many Filipino professionals and OFWs, a country I know supported the Philippine Government in its critical reforms of demonopolization and liberalization, whose men and women that have lived here to help the development effort of our country, as far as my own sphere of experience is concerned, have been of the highest caliber, and whose support for the economic future of our country has provided a new window of opportunity for the Filipino youth to hone their skills in the international business environment of a globalized world. Mabuhay!
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