Canada: The Philippines’ old childhood friend

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Andrew J. Masigan

Numbers Don’t Lie

This week, 21 world leaders descended upon our shores to attend the 31st ASEAN Summit and 12th East Asia Summit. Each leader represents nations in whom we have long standing relationships with. Some are political allies, some are opportunistic “friends,” some are akin to elder brothers in whom we look to for support while others are like younger siblings whom we mentor.

One nation, however, stands out, not because of the amount of support she has extended to Filipinos, but because she has done so without fanfare and without strings attached. That friend is Canada.

Since diplomatic relations began in 1949, Canada has been a formidable supporter of the Philippines. She was there with us since our infancy as a full-fledged republic all the way to the various eras of our development. From establishing ourselves as a self-governing nation, to the treacherous path of ousting a dictator and re-establishing our democratic institutions — and now, toward becoming a thriving free market economy. Quietly and under the radar, Canada was with us in the best of times and the worst of times.

The grateful nation that we are will never forget how Canada was one of the first responders when a 7.7-MW earthquake reduced Baguio to rubble in 1990. She was there again when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, providing technical assistance and aid to those affected in Central Luzon. When typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) inundated Metro Manila in 2009, Canada was quick to provide a fleet of rubber boats to the Philippine Navy. Just four years ago, when typhoon Haiyan flattened the city of Tacloban, Canada was first on the scene to provide immediate humanitarian aid and more importantly, long-term assistance to help the victims rebuild their lives. Today, a Canadian-sponsored residential village in Tacloban provides permanent dwellings for the victims of the catastrophe.

Canada is no fair-weather friend of the Philippines. She continues to give, simply because she is in the position to. She asks nothing in return.

Under the baton of Ambassador John T. Homes, Philippine-Canadian relations have become more profound, traversing the realms of trade, immigration, education and social development.

Unlike most industrial economies who enjoy enormous trade surpluses from the Philippines, Canada imports two times more products from the Philippines than she exports to it. Records show that as of 2016, Canada purchased $1.255 billion worth of Philippine-made goods, mostly composed of electronic products, mechanical appliances, rubber and rubber articles, leather goods and oleo products. This has given the Philippines a trade surplus of some $709 million. On the other hand, the Philippines purchased $626 million worth of goods from Canada, composed of wooden articles, ores, meats, fertilizers and machinery, including aircrafts.

Last September, Philippine Airlines took delivery of its second Q400 aircraft from Montreal-based engineering behemoth, Bombardier. Ten more aircrafts are pending delivery.

Bombardier aircraft have been part of Philippine Airlines’ fleet for more than a decade thanks to its sturdiness and ability to land in short, roughly paved runways. It is ideal for servicing such island destinations as Batanes, Surigao, and Coron.

The Philippines also purchased eight Bell Helicopters which now services the Military and the Office of the President.

One of the compelling reasons why the flag carrier chose Bombardier for its turbo-prop fleet is because 20% of its work force are Filipinos. That translates to roughly 200 workers. It can be said that the aircraft is partially Filipino-made, albeit using Canadian technology.

In fact, Ross Mitchell, Bombardier vice-president, said that Bombardier’s Filipino work force is one of the company’s greatest assets, thanks to their industry, dedication, and loyalty.

Mr. Mitchell’s view of Filipino’s work ethic was seconded by no less than Canadian Member of Parliament, Michael Levitt. The high regard that the Canadian government have for Filipino workers is the reason why the Philippines is one of Canada’s preferred countries for inbound immigration.

In 2015, the Philippines was Canada’s top source country for permanent immigration and part of the top three source countries over the last five years. This year, more than 30,000 Filipinos have so far been granted permanent residency. There are more than 850,000 Filipinos living in Canada today, the majority of whom work in the health care and hospitality sectors. They are large contributors to the Canadian economy. Filipinos integrate well into the Canadian society, not only because of our command of English, but more so because Canadians are blind to race and are welcoming of all.

In terms of foreign direct investments, Canada plowed $1.15 billion into the Philippine economy last year, the lion’s share of which went towards factories involved in recyclable energy, waste treatment, water treatment, and mining concerns. All these have generated thousands of jobs for Filipinos.

Over the next four years, Canada is keen to participate in government’s massive $165-billion infrastructure program, not as a direct builder or operator, but as a supplier. Canada possesses class leading technologies in railways, water resource management, waste management and renewable energies, among others.

On the other hand, Filipino investments in Canada amounted to $65 million last year. One of the high profile investments made was by a Jollibee, who opened a commissary and restaurant in Winnipeg. The burger chain is presently laying the ground work for a second store in Vancouver.

Canada’s generosity is shown by the dozens of educational and social development programs that the country has initiated. These programs help alleviate the plight of Filipinos in disadvantaged situations. Three programs, in particular, stand out given the number of people they have helped.

One of them is called JobStart.

Jobstart provides Filipinos without formal education or specialized skills with the full gamut of training programs to make them employable. These include skills training, career coaching, communication improvement and training on life skills.

Canada committed CAD$10 million to fund the nationwide roll-out of JobStart.

In 2016, the program was rolled out in 14 local government units (LGUs) where it produced 2,917 graduates, of which 2,130 were placed in full time jobs. This translates to an impressive placement rate of 73%. This year, some 3,817 are signed up to the JobStart program.

By the year 2021, the Canadian embassy aims to have 24,000 out-of-school Filipinos benefit from JobStart across 24 LGUs.

Another noteworthy program is called GREAT Women. The project assists women micro-entrepreneurs involved in food, textiles, woven cloth and home-style sectors to successfully and sustainably grow their businesses. It aims to help women entrepreneurs improve their products and productivity. It assists them in back-room management and connects them with domestic and global markets. The project is done in collaboration with the Philippine’s Department of Trade and Industry as well as the Philippine Commission on women.

To date, some 3,652 women entrepreneurs have benefitted from the various program of GREAT Women. They raised some P52 million this year from the sale of their wares. Quite impressive.

In the educational sphere, Canada announced a new scholarship program in Southeast Asia, called the ASEAN-Canada Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development, or SEED.

SEED provides college, undergraduate and graduate students from all ten ASEAN member states the opportunity to apply for short-term studies in Canada in a field that is aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The program is designed to narrow the development gap and reduce poverty in the region, through education and people empowerment.

The relationship between the Philippines and Canada is one like old childhood friends. Time may have taken both nations to different directions, different circumstances, and different preoccupations. Still, it does not diminish the bond that exists. Both are secure in the fact that should push come to shove, the other will be there ready and willing to be a friend with no questions asked.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.