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Canada and PH: Old friends, enduring ties

Canada and the Philippines have forged extensive people-to-people linkages. In the words of President Duterte last month when I presented diplomatic credentials “virtually” on the 159th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, “We are old friends… our ties are strong and enduring.”

There are good reasons for that jointly held sentiment. Our two countries share the Pacific Ocean, membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, and Canada’s 42-year Asean partnership. Our indigenous peoples were both colonized by Europeans hundreds of years ago. We have learned to live next to big, powerful neighbors. Canada and the Philippines are characterized by remote and rural communities, long coastlines, islands, and mountains.

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Our diversity means there is much to discover beyond Manila or Toronto and Vancouver. My first visit outside Manila was to Davao, where I toured a local woman-owned company where the “JobStart” program, supported by Canada, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Asian Development Bank, helps transition young people from school to the workplace. I also visited a maternal health clinic where we support family planning with the Department of Health (DOH), and toured Ateneo de Davao University and the excellent Museo Dabawenyo to learn about the peoples and cultures that have contributed to the fascinating history of the city. I look forward to more visits across this beautiful, friendly, and dynamic country.

In addition to our longstanding development program funding to support Philippine socioeconomic advancement, a mutually beneficial trade and investment relationship has blossomed. That business is worth billions of dollars, creating tens of thousands of jobs in rapidly growing sectors such as financial and business process services, the digital economy, agri-food and natural resources. Canadian firms represented in the Chamber of Commerce and the regional Canada-Asean Business Council are committed to help our economies bounce back better from the COVID-19 crisis.

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Within my first three months in the Philippines, I saw up close how one such company could make a difference. Philippine Airlines provides the only direct, nonstop fights to Canada from any Southeast Asian city. In April, the Embassy partnered with Philippine Airlines and, supported by the efforts of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and of Tourism as well as many provinces and municipalities across the Philippines, worked to return 1,700 Canadians and permanent residents to Canada on 21 domestic flights and six flights to Canada. Filipinos demonstrated their usual—extraordinary — hospitality, creativity, and resilience throughout this operation, for which my team and I are grateful.

As the pandemic evolves, Canada stands with the Philippines through several initiatives, including close to P115 million in direct COVID-19 assistance. We are committed to supporting the DOH to ensure that women continue to have access to essential reproductive health services by providing additional funding to two existing projects: adding P70 million to the Enhance Mother/Newborn/Child Health in Remote Areas through Health Care and Community Engagement, and P15.2 million to the Sexual Health and Empowerment Philippines project.

Personal protective equipment is critical to protect frontliner staff. Canada is donating 120,000 N95 masks valued at P29.5 million and providing infectious disease detection and tracking capacity to the Philippine-led Asean BioDiaspora Virtual Center. Canada is also donating to the Philippines COVID-19 diagnostic equipment and testing kits as part of a global project through the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In addition, Canada has allocated support to the WHO, WFP, UNFPA, UNHCR, IOM, Unicef, and IFRC, all active in the Philippines, to fight COVID-19, and to develop a vaccine. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underlined at a global health meeting that new vaccines need to be shared. In this multilateral spirit, as the fourth largest non-borrower shareholder of the Asian Development Bank, Canada strongly supports the additional COVID-19 package of loans and technical assistance being made available to the Philippines.

This year marks our 71st year of bilateral relations, and last year, to celebrate our 70th anniversary, June was designated Filipino Heritage Month across Canada. Not only are we “old friends,” our relations are buttressed by our amazing people-to-people links. The Filipino community in Canada is now over 850,000 strong. Each year, thousands of Filipinos go to work in Canada, and more students are choosing to study at our world leading institutions. OFWs and students now in Canada are able to access temporary government COVID-19 financial support.

There is much scope to expand and diversify our relationship—a challenge I am pleased to accept. There is much we can accomplish, as friends, together. Of course, today is a special day, July 1st. To all of our Filipino friends, and to all Canadians, I want to wish you a Happy Canada Day.

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H.E. Peter MacArthur is Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines.

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TAGS: Canadian ambassador to the Philippnes, Commentary, Peter MacArthur, PH-Canada relations
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