Justin and the women
He was literally a breathtaking sight as he stepped out of his limousine. Clad in tan slacks, white shirt and blue blazer, he shone in the afternoon sun, looking thinner than in his photos and flashing a smile even amid the black-suited security detail that surrounded him.
Likhaan executive director Junice Melgar, chair Sylvia Estrada “Guy” Claudio, and trustees former health secretary Espie Cabral and myself shed our feminist principles (pretensions?) and immediately started fan-girling in the presence of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I don’t even remember what the other women said. I embarrassed myself by gushing that it was “such a thrill” to have him with us at Likhaan’s Women’s Clinic in Zaragosa, Tondo. He replied that all the pleasure was his, saying he should thank Likhaan for running such a facility.
The clinic was funded by Global Affairs Canada (formerly the Canadian International Development Agency or Cida) through Inter Pares, an NGO based in Canada with which Likhaan has partnered for over 25 years. Junice said that, given a list of Canadian-funded projects in the country, Trudeau singled out the Zaragosa women’s clinic to visit.
After shaking hands with us old biddies, Trudeau then turned to the waiting mothers and their babies, looking delighted as he picked up each infant in turn and spoke with the women. “Is this your first?” he inquired of one woman who was in the last stages of pregnancy and who in fact felt contractions during our long wait for the visiting PM. Marveling at the ease with which he picked up the babies and laid kisses on them, I wondered why he indulged in this longtime campaign ritual since he would not be harvesting any votes here. “But remember,” said an embassy official, “there are hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living (and voting) in Canada.”
Trudeau then turned to the clinic staff waiting in line behind the mothers and gamely posed for more photos. But we were under instructions not to follow him into the clinic premises, since only Junice and those staffing the stations were allowed to stay with him. “Junice has been my friend for decades,” grumbled Guy, “but this is the first time I am really, really jealous of her!”
As Trudeau exited the clinic, a med tech gushed about how close he laid his face next to hers as she demonstrated the use of a gadget. “He was so near, we were almost kissing!” she squealed.
Then it was all over but the shouting. Trudeau entered the car, and when the rowdy crowd started cheering as sirens blared and lights flashed, he stood on the side step and waved with gusto. Then, in a flash of rushing vehicles and blinking lights, he was gone from our sight.
We were told that Trudeau would be dropping by a nearby Jollibee store, which he apparently requested of the organizers. The visit to the fast-food outlet (he’d already visited another branch in Canada) is, I think, a homage to the deep Filipino connections of the Trudeau family. His three children — Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien — are looked after by Filipino nannies Marian Pueyo and Marilou Nemiada Trayvilla (though Marilou left the service last July), so I’m speculating that the taste for Chickenjoy and sweet spaghetti is one imbibed by the Trudeau brood through their yayas.
We may not have ogled his abs as we threatened to do, but we certainly got a glimpse of the PM’s feminist side. Trudeau has openly declared that he’s a feminist (“because it’s 2015,” he famously replied when asked about it), and his choice of the Likhaan clinic to visit soon after his arrival in the country is certainly an indicator.
In his party was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a journalist who entered politics and soon made her feminist credentials clear. She looked delighted as she greeted us and the waiting mothers, expressing excitement at the prospect of taking a closer look at the clinic, which provides free checkups, counseling, delivery and postnatal family planning services to women in need of them. Apologies to the other visiting heads of state, but Justin Trudeau of Canada is to me the superstar of this Asean meet.
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