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Opinion

Canada, Philippines continue to build bridges across the Indo-Pacific

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - David Hartman - The Philippine Star

Historical accounts say that the first Filipino immigrant to Canada arrived in 1861 – a young man named Benson Flores, who lived as a fisherman and trapper on Bowen Island in British Columbia, on Canada’s Pacific coast.

Today, 162 years after Mr. Flores arrived in Canada, approximately one million people in Canada claim Filipino heritage. The Philippines is Canada’s second largest source country for new immigrants, and third largest source of foreign students.

Wherever I travel in the Philippines, I am hard pressed to find a Filipino who does not have a friend or family member in Canada.

Filipinos have become an integral part of Canada’s multi-cultural mosaic, living across our vast country, from the high Arctic to our cities in every province and territory.

Robust people-to-people ties underpin this relationship.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that when Canada announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy in November of last year, the Philippines was identified as a priority partner for the implementation of our strategy.

Over the past 12 months, my team and I at the embassy have been working hard to translate our vision for the Canada-Philippines relationship into reality:

• We have increased our engagement between our Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers with their Filipino counterparts;

• We have worked together with the Philippines at the UN, in ASEAN and bilaterally to uphold a rules-based international order; and have supported each other for key candidacies in multilateral institutions;

• We have been clear, consistent and vocal in our support for the 2016 Arbitral Award and in condemning acts of coercion in the West Philippine Sea;

• We have enhanced our diplomatic presence, adding new embassy staff, to give us the human resources necessary to pursue our ambitious program of cooperation with the Philippines;

• We held the inaugural Canada-Philippines Joint Economic Commission, to deepen cooperation on clean energy transition, critical minerals, food security, education, creative industries and science, technology and innovation;

• We opened a new global processing center in Manila to reduce visa processing times;

• We introduced the Electronic Travel Authorization program, allowing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to secure travel documents online, in just minutes;

• We launched the CANWork Philippines initiative, to streamline work permit processing;

• We have participated in military exercises, including through collaborative sails between the Royal Canadian Navy and the Philippine Navy;

• We have deployed Canada’s Dark Vessel Detection program, a satellite-based monitoring system, to enhance Philippine maritime domain awareness and reinforce Philippine efforts to maintain maritime safety and security, and combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Philippine waters.

And there is more to come.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the 6th Canada-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Ottawa where our respective delegations charted out an ambitious plan to expand our collaboration for next year, as we celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations.

This will include:

• Expanding our exchanges on cyber defence and cyber security, and identifying opportunities to work together to strengthen Filipino capacities to respond to escalating cyber threats;

• Focused dialogue between relevant specialists on the battle against malign influence, foreign interference and economic coercion, as well as how we can work together to safeguard our democratic institutions and economic foundations;

• New investments in disaster risk reduction, resilient communities and the battle against climate change;

• New investments in our long-standing work, together with Philippine civil society, to uphold, promote and defence fundamental human rights, human dignity and freedom of expression;

• The holding, in Manila, of the inaugural Canada-Philippines maritime dialogue, to bring focus to our rapidly expanding cooperation in maritime safety and security, protection of marine ecosystems and our joint efforts to combat IUU fishing;

• Collaborative work to reinforce and uphold the rules-based international order and international law, both here in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world;

• Pursuing expanded cooperation to address shared challenges like food security, energy security and the integrity of supply chains;

• Bringing an integrated Team Canada Trade Mission to the Philippines, to connect government and business stakeholders and create opportunities for Canadian and Filipino businesses; and

• Continuing to expand our defence and military cooperation and ensure that world-class Canadian technologies are on offer as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard and other security stakeholders accelerate their modernization plans.

The ambition and commitment I see on both sides to capitalize on the opportunities before us are clear.

As we stand upon 2024 – the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations, I take confidence in temperance, probity and mutual respect that have characterized the partnership between our two countries.

The investments made, trust built and understanding fostered with each other have positioned us well to respond together to the challenges of our age.

The link that binds us is a vast bridge that spans the breadth of the Pacific – a conduit for the free exchange of ideas, investment, goods, culture, art, knowledge and labor that has made us ideal partners.

I am excited by the prospect of what the year ahead will bring, undaunted by the sheer scale of the opportunity before us and humbled to build on the work of those who have come before us to help write the next chapter in the Canada-Philippines relationship.

*      *      *

David Hartman is Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines.

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