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Opinion

Good friends helping each other

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Peter Macarthur - The Philippine Star

Last month, Canada issued a statement in support of the international rules based order, including UNCLOS, and the 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines. We did so because Canada believes in the post-war value of multilateralism. Furthermore, because we are blessed with the world’s longest coastline across three oceans, my country can appreciate the general need to join in the defense of basic international principles underpinning peace and security. Consistently following the rules of the game, including for the protection of ocean environments, is crucial to our local fishing, resources and tourism economies. This is just one example of friends helping friends as Canada and the Philippines today commemorate 72 years of diplomatic relations.

The common interests we have, and mutual benefits we enjoy, are at the heart of that strong relationship linking our two Pacific Rim democracies. Examples are evident across a broad spectrum of activity: Continuing with security, in October, the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Winnipeg made a goodwill call at Manila in the course of its operational activities in the Indo-Pacific. We were able to meet Secretary Lorenzana together with the leadership of the Navy and Coast Guard to review defense cooperation including training. The HMCS Winnipeg had earlier exercised in the Western Pacific with the new Philippine frigate BRP Jose Rizal.

The Philippines was one of the first countries to sign on to the Vancouver Principles to discourage child soldiers and we are partners in bio-security. In support of law enforcement, our RCMP federal police cooperates with the PNP in joint efforts against international terrorist and organized crime threats, human smuggling and the online sexual exploitation of children.

Our countries’ friendship extends to promoting multiculturalism, migrant workers’ rights and ethical recruitment. Canada and the Philippines are leading supporters of the Global Compact on Migration as a framework for the best possible treatment of migrant workers. In this context, Canada was pleased when Foreign Secretary Locsin earlier this year signed the International Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention, making the Philippines the first ASEAN member-country to do so and for good reason, in light of your vast diaspora abroad.

Canada is home to approximately one million citizens and permanent residents of Filipino origin along with 20,000 temporary foreign workers and 9,000 students. As Canada’s third largest source country of migrants, we count on talented Filipinos to fill labor gaps and keep our population young, growing and economically dynamic. In return, Canadians and OFWs who remained in Canada throughout the pandemic sent home to their extended families an estimated C$2 billion.

This consequent people-to-people connection drives Canada as the 7th largest source of foreign tourists across this beautiful and friendly archipelago. So very much a classic win-win. This was underlined by COVID-19 when many of our courageous health care workers who have roots in the Philippines were among the first medical heroes to be inoculated this time last year.

Since arriving in the Philippines, I have been impressed with the vibrancy of the local and national press. For over 25 years now, the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship, named after the late Canadian media guru, has recognized top Filipino journalists, including Christian Esguerra this past year. Accurate reporting without fear or favor is pivotal to our democracies, especially today in an era of social media sometimes spawning fake news.

In the context of the current global health and economic crisis, this May’s national elections will be the most important since 1986. We wish Filipinos well in choosing their future national leadership. Interestingly, in our September federal election, the first Filipina-Canadian, a banker and community leader – Rechie Valdez – was elected to the Parliament. This year also marks 100 years since women were able to vote in Canada.

As founding APEC members and as ASEAN partners, our two countries are each stronger through economic interaction. Canada’s first presence in Manila was way back in 1896 when Toronto-based Sun Life insurance company first opened an office here. Since that time, other major Canadian corporates have established themselves in the Philippines, employing thousands. The partial re-opening of the mining sector contingent on Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) CSR protocols adopted in Canada’s world-leading industry is another way we are helping each other towards economic recovery.

Food has a way of bringing our cultures together, so the expansion of Jollibee to 22 restaurants across Canada is nicely reciprocated with a similarly iconic national brand, Tim Hortons, opening coffee shops in Metro Manila. Our two countries gain from a C$1.2-billion merchandise trade relationship, which includes a full range, from food and minerals to electronic products and aircraft.

But the best is yet to come. Last month, ASEAN trade ministers agreed to launch FTA negotiations with Canada with a view to optimizing commercial relations as part of an economic recovery strategy. Opening up to each other will complement the new RCEP arrangement and boost exports, jobs and GDP.

In the wake of COP26, we hope and trust that the Philippines will tap into climate finance support, get off coal, re-forest and consider a price on carbon much like Canada and other countries have done. With 72 years behind us, our continuing friendly cooperation on new issues such as the global environment is bound to yield even more progress in the years ahead. We’re stronger together.

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Peter MacArthur is Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines.

UNCLOS

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