2,000 Fil-Canadians cheer Pres. Aquino in Toronto
TORONTO, Ontario — More than 2,000 Fil-Canadians, their friends and supporters gathered at Roy Thomson Hall on the afternoon of May 8, Friday as guests of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to a community event honoring Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
President Aquino’s three-day state visit, from May 7 to 9, included stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. This was his first-ever visit to Canada and the first state visit here by a Filipino president since 1997.
In his welcome address, Prime Minister Harper said, “The participation of the Filipino community throughout Canadian society helps ensure our country’s continued strength and success. Canada and the Philippines share a long-term commitment to economic growth and the prosperity of our citizens.”
With close to 700,000 persons of Filipino origin now living in Canada, “(President Aquino’s) visit also provided an opportunity to introduce (him) to Canada’s hardworking Filipino communities and highlight some of their major contributions to the fabric of our society,” added Harper.
Harper recalled how Canada assisted the Philippines in 2013 with donations in cash and in kind to help mitigate the ravages wrought by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, matching donations from public groups and individuals dollar for dollar with government money. Consequently Canada was the third largest international donor for the Haiyan/Yolanda relief effort.
“Our Canadian Red Cross provided relief and disaster assistance response training (DART) to their Philippine counterparts. And we are very proud to announce that the DART teams fielded to assist in the earthquake disaster in Nepal include Filipinos trained by the Canadian Red Cross during the times of Haiyan/Yolanda,” Harper added.
President Aquino began his speech in English, but shifted to Filipino a couple of sentences after. He apologized to the non-Filipino speakers for the shift, saying that there are nuances in the language that bring home concepts better to the Filipino than a foreign language can. He then launched full tilt into a very smooth and polished delivery of a progress report on the Philippine economy, peppered here and there with jokes that brought down the house.
“The Philippines experienced a 6.3 percent increase in GDP, and in one year (2014) we recorded filling 1.04 million jobs. And these are permanent and long-term jobs! Hindi kasama yung mga nagwalis ng daan ng isang linggo, tapos isasama sa jobs report. At ang mga schools and training centers, targeted ang mga job areas where workers are needed. Yun pong mga schools for accountants, for example, mga second year at third year pa lang yung mga students, may nagha-hire na!
“Ito po yung programang JobStart–focused and targeted ang mga itinuturo–for immediate hiring,” President Aquino emphasized.
From being perceived as the “sick man of Asia,” said President Aquino, “the Philippines is now the Darling of Asia,” with foreign investment fuelling the growth of business and economic optimism on the rise.
Aquino ended his talk on an upbeat: “Ang Pilipino kasi, basta nabibigyan ng tunay na pag-unlad… ng opportunities, lalong magpapakitang gilas!”
The two leaders had hammered out several key initiatives envisioned to strengthen Canada-Philippines bilateral relations.
Among others, the Prime Minister’s office disclosed that exploratory talks toward a free trade agreement between the Philippines and Canada were launched. There would also be an upgrading of the existing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.
Also signed was an important framework on mutual accountability for development cooperation that outlines the commitments of both governments to collaborate in reducing poverty in the Philippines. A number of projects were announced to assist the Philippines further in recovering from Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.
Harper and Aquino also addressed “regional and global security challenges,” where Canada will support a number of initiatives aimed at improving maritime security, countering terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region, and the Bangsamoro Peace Process.
Harper visited the Philippines officially in November 2012, the first visit made by a Canadian Prime Minister in 15 years. The two leaders met again during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing in November 2014.
The Prime Minister’s office states that the Philippines is Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner in Southeast Asia and is a priority market under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan. With bilateral merchandise trade totaling $1.8 billion in 2014 and an approximate 100 million population, the Philippines is an important market for Canadian business.
To underscore the twin roles of the Philippines as Canada’s economic and trading partner and as a regional and global security partner, Minister of Finance Joe Oliver and Minister of National Defense and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney also addressed the gathering. Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. served as master of ceremonies.
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