Thursday, 23 November 2017 01:05

Duterte gets Mad at Trudeau's Interference

Commentary by: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver, BC

President Rodrigo Duterte must have been following what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father said when asked if he would raise the issue of human rights with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos more than 30 years ago.

“Nobody likes to be told by an outsider how to run his own government,” said the elder Trudeau.

Duterte gets ‘insulted’ by Trudeau’s criticism of the ‘drug war’. 

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Justin Trudeau for  criticizing his (Duterte’s)  war on drugs … a campaign which has seen more than 12,000 people killed, according to Human Rights Watch — 2,555 of them by the Philippine National Police. 

“It is a personal and official insult….  It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country,” fumed Duterte. “You don’t even investigate.” 

While Trudeau has been criticized for his photo-ops while in the Philippines for the ASEAN Summit, he deserves credit for standing up to the Philippine strongman, known worldwide for his ascerbic tongue and foul language. 

Beyond his posturing with the iconic Philippine fast-food chain Jollibee and riding the new jeepney, Trudeau was the only Western leader to raise the issue of human rights including that of Rohingya with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.  

In contrast, U.S. President Donald Trump had a bromance with Duterte,  saying they had a “great relationship” and even laughing approvingly when Duterte called the media “spies”.

Duterte sang a Filipino love song at an ASEAN leaders dinner, “upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States.”

Trudeau was not risking much direct economic damage by confronting Duterte.

Canadian exports to the Philippines totaled $626 million in 2016, while imports totaled $1.35 billion. 

But the PM’s motivation may not have been completely free of political calculation. Currently the Philippines ranks as the top source country for new immigrants, with 41,785 new permanent residents in 2016 alone. 

In a press conference after his meeting with Duterte, Trudeau was also praised by Philippine media for among others, his “unabashed” mention of Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) as ‘feminist’, pledging his continued support for women’s reproductive rights. 

He admitted that Canada is not perfect and that it has it’s own human rights problems especially with regard to its indigenous people. 

On the issue of the rotting Canadian garbage, Trudeau is seeing a final solution now that the  barrier posed by Canadian law has been overcome. It is now only a question of who pays for the return to the trash given that it was a private business venture in the first place. 

While he was generally rated favourably by local media, the question remains if having a good heart alone is enough in politics.

Republished under arrangement with the Philippine Canadian News

Published in Commentary

By: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver, BC

The saga of Toronto’s ‘Balita’ newspaper and its publisher Teresita ‘Tess’ Cusipag, is a sober reminder that there are limits to free speech. 

Cusipag has just been released from jail (June 25, 2017) after serving 13 days of a 21-day sentence for criminal contempt of court arising from the libel case filed against the paper by Senator Tobias Enverga, Jr.  

In his decision to impose a permanent injunction against Cusipag et al, Justice Lederman, J. of the Ontario Superior Court acknowledged that a permanent injunction was ‘rare” but that in this particular case he found it to be in order. 

“….[52] Here, there is an ongoing concern that the defendants will continue to publish defamatory statements about Senator Enverga.  They have engaged in a persistent campaign to injure Senator Enverga and ruin his reputation and have done so with malice.  They have refused to apologize and they have given no indication that they are prepared to stop their irresponsible defamatory attacks. In these circumstances, a permanent injunction will go enjoining the defendants directly or indirectly, from publishing and/or broadcasting, or encouraging or assisting others to publish or broadcast any statements, in any manner whatsoever which in their plain or ordinary meaning or by innuendo suggest: (emphasis ours)

(1) In relation to fundraising activities for KCCC in 2001, Senator Enverga committed criminal fraud;

(2) That by virtue of Senator Enverga’s involvement in fundraising activities for KCCC in 2001 and by virtue of his statements in relation to the charitable status of PCCF, he is a pathological or biological liar.” 

This has been a long simmering case between Cusipag and Senator Enverga, the first and only senator of Filipino heritage who was appointed to the Senate in 2012 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Although Enverga complained of an article published by Balita in its Feb- 1-15, 2014 issue, the enmity between the two protagonists started long before that in 2001. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A virtual media war erupted in Toronto where the country’s largest Filipino population resides with claims and counter-claims abound. [/quote]

Cusipag has alleged that Senator Enverga was fraudulent in not accounting for $6,000 raised through the activities of the Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre (KCCC). In addition, Cusipag also alleged that the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF) was not a registered charity under the laws of Canada contrary to claims by Enverga that it was. 

As background, it must be pointed that Tess Cusipag runs and has been running her own Miss Manila beauty pageant and claims that her event raises more money than PIDC run by Rosemer Enverga, the wife of Senator Enverga. 

The controversy that arose because of the rivalry between these two groups have escalated into a rift that fractured the Filipino community in Toronto. 

A virtual media war erupted in Toronto where the country’s largest Filipino population resides with claims and counter-claims abound. 

It has spawned an anonymous group – Toronto Balita Boycott whose aim is to encourage businesses not to advertise in Balita.  

Former lawyer and blogger Joe Rivera (An Uncomplicated Mind) traced the history of the controversy and lamented the insidious impact in his blog, ‘A Community Struggles for Civility’ on February 7, 2013.  

Rivera squarely laid the blame on the writings of Romeo Marquez, who is a co-defendant in the defamation case. 

Here is how Rivera puts it: 

“But the arrival of Romeo Marquez, Tess Balita’s Associate Editor and a former San Diego journalist, has added fuel in the already-raging controversy, particularly with the kind of incendiary language he employs in his articles. It is the same modus operandi that Marquez followed in his newspapering stint in the US that he is now replicating here in Toronto. The trail of controversies he has left behind—his quarrels with various Filipinos, community leaders or otherwise, and videos on YouTube—speaks for the kind of journalism that Balita is currently espousing.” 

“….As a newspaper, Balita should understand that it is the freedom of the press that makes it a powerful and significant pillar in the community. It should not take this freedom and power lightly— that it can outrightly censure, silence or even bully its critics anytime it’s not happy with complaints from groups in the community about their news reporting.” 

Balita and Cusipag has been slapped with a $250,000 of general, aggravated and punitive damages plus $90,000 in legal costs. 

This does not include her own legal costs in the long drawn-out legal battle. 

The award is one of the largest in the history of Canadian libel awards. 

In his paper, ‘Defamation and Damages’ published in October 2011, David Gooderham found that large awards are rare in the country. 

Cusipag appealed the quantum of the award but lost. 

She is still facing a host of other libel cases that are asking for millions of dollars in damages. 

It is not certain whether the paper can survive the financial troubles it is facing. 

But Cusipag vows to soldier on. 

We wish her well but cannot resist an unsolicited advice. 

The pen is mightier than the sword but if it ruins people’s lives without evidence that can stand up in court, journalists have a responsibility to wield that sword carefully. 

Ted Alcuitas is Publisher and Editor of Philippine Canadian News, an online news outlet that links the Filipino Canadian diaspora. This article was republished by arrangement.

Published in Top Stories

by Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver

The man who put Filipinos on the political map of this country has died in Winnipeg, his home for more than five decades.

Conrad Santos, the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislative assembly died at Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital on Feb. 29. He was 81. The cause of death was not known.

In a statement, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger offered his condolences to Santos’ family on behalf of Manitobans.

“It was with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr. Santos,” Selinger said.

“Dr. Santos served his adopted province and his constituency with dedication and self-sacrifice. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Dr. Santos served his adopted province and his constituency with dedication and self-sacrifice."[/quote]

A distinguished career

Conrad Santos was first elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly under the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1981, serving for five terms (1981-1988 and 1990-2007) before stepping down in 2007.

Born in the Philippines and a native Bulakeno, he was educated at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in Political Science.

He moved to Winnipeg in 1965 after obtaining a teaching position at the University of Manitoba. He remained a tenured professor at the U of M until his election to the legislature. Santos also worked as a consultant for the Instituto Centro-Americano de Administracion Publica in Costa Rica, and was a board member of the Citizenship Council of Manitoba from 1977 to 1980.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The soft-spoken and eccentric Santos led a colourful and sometimes controversial political life.[/quote]

Santos was active in the Winnipeg Filipino community for many years serving as an adviser to many organizations notably the Philippine Association of Manitoba (PAM). He was a member of the Knights of Rizal, the organization that first broke the story of his death.

Controversy in his political life

The soft-spoken and eccentric Santos led a colourful and sometimes controversial political life. Long before riding a bike became popular, he was already riding one to the legislature from his home in Fort Garry with his iconic Che Guevarra hat and a sling leather bag at his side.

Santos was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in the 1981 provincial election as a New Democrat in the northwest Winnipeg riding of Burrows, defeating NDP-turned-Progressive Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Ben Hanuschak. He was re-elected in the 1986 election.

In June 1984, there were unconfirmed rumours that he was considering a move to the Progressive Conservative Party.

In 1987, he was accused of trying to use his political position to prevent Winnipeg School Division No. 1 from expropriating a house he owned. 

Santos lost the Burrows NDP nomination to Doug Martindale in 1988, and subsequently entered the party’s leadership election. He was not regarded as a serious candidate, and received only five votes on the first ballot. Santos ran for mayor of Winnipeg in 1989, but was again not considered a serious candidate and finished a distant fourth.

In 1990, Santos won the NDP nomination for Broadway, another northwest riding, by a single vote over favoured candidate Marianne Cerilli. He subsequently defeated Liberal incumbent Avis Gray in the 1990 general election, and was re-elected in the 1995 election.

In 1995, he endorsed Lorne Nystrom’s bid to lead the federal NDP. 

When the Broadway riding was eliminated by redistribution in 1999, Santos won the NDP nomination in Wellington (also in Winnipeg’s northwest), and was returned by a wide margin in the 1999 provincial election.

He was again re-elected in the 2003 election. 

Santos was named Deputy Speaker after the elections of 1986 and 1999, but has never been appointed to a cabinet position.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]There is no doubt that Conrad Santos paved the way for the current crop of Filipino politicians in Manitoba.[/quote]

Santos left the New Democratic Party caucus shortly before the 2007 provincial election after being accused of improperly selling party membership cards (he denied the charge). He campaigned as an independent, and finished last in a field of five candidates. His successor, Flor Marcelino, was a last minute replacement candidate for the NDP.

The Winnipeg Sun reported in 2013 that on Mar. 16, 2005 “Santos was scolded for bringing a paring knife into chamber. …The speaker confiscated the three-inch blade from Santos, who apologized for bringing it into the house.”

Paving the way for Filipino politicians

There is no doubt that Conrad Santos paved the way for the current crop of Filipino politicians in Manitoba including Dr. Rey Pagtakhan who followed him as the first Filipino to be elected member of Parliament in 1988.

Pagtakhan’s nephew Mike, is a long-serving member of the Winnipeg city council and there are currently two sitting members of the Manitoba legislature – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino, both of the NDP.

Other Filipino politicians served in various positions in school boards putting Manitoba firmly in the leading position in the country as having the most number of Filipino politicians in office.

Santos is survived by one daughter, two sons and two daughters-in-law, Evelyn Santos, Conrad and Leslie Santos, Rob and Kim Santos, and their families; four grandchildren, Kristen and Matt, Ginny and Josie.

Affectionately known as ka Rading to his family, he is also survived by his three siblings and three sisters-in-law, Leticia Santos, Rebecca Santos, Ruel and Dina Santos, Narcisa Santos, Luz Santos, and all their families (including his nephew, Paul Santos).

Santos was predeceased by his parents, Federico and Marcelina Santos of Malolos, Bulacan, Philippines; his sister Melita Santos Beltran, his brothers Virgilio Santos and Benjamin Santos, and his wife Emerita Santos, and is survived by their families.

This article first appeared on Republished with permission.

Published in Politics

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s recent visit to Canada, the Philippines have been more widely reported on in mainstream media. Still, many of the diaspora’s stories and news go widely uncovered by major news networks. Aquino, himself, was covered quite differently by Philippine outlets than in the mainstream. In this edition of PULSE, find out about what’s been making waves in the Philippine media.

Aquino’s Visit to Canada: Not All Positive

The recent visit of Philippine President Aquino generated its fair share of coverage from the mainstream media – generally concentrating on the ‘positive’ side of the visit, trade talks, etc., while treating protesters with muted interest.

But Filipino outlets covered the negative aspects as well; in fact, even before he arrived.

Bern Jagunos (pictured to the right), a writer for the Toronto-based Philippine Reporter, wrote on May 1 that it appears Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not heard that the President’s aura has “irreversibly dimmed,” thanks to what she called Aquino’s, “atrocious human rights record, dismally inept leadership and the unbridled corruption of his administration.”

President Aquino’s popularity back home has sunk to a record low, Jagunos claimed.

Jagunos also referred to a study by Global Witness that quotes the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) saying that, “under President Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines ranks third among the most dangerous countries in the world for citizens who advocate for the protection of the environment. In 2014 alone, 15 Filipinos were killed by state agents because the Aquino government considered their opposition to large scale mining and other destructive resource extraction projects a threat to the state.”

Meanwhile, after he arrived in Canada, ethnic media continued to provide critical commentary of his visit.

The Philippine Reporter called Toronto’s event at Roy Thomson Hall welcoming Aquino to town, a “political rally”, inside its article published in partnership with New Canadian Media. Most of the invited guests cheered Aquino and Harper on, the article stated, but many others were upset the more difficult issues of rights abuse, poverty and temporary foreign workers were not raised.

On the other hand Vancouver’s Philippine Canadian Inquirer reported that Aquino had a “rousing welcome” from the Fil-Can community, but failed to mention the protests outside.

Filipinos Want to Stop Deportations

According to the Pilipino Express, activists from across Canada stepped up their fight efforts to stop the deportations of thousands of temporary foreign workers caught in the federal government’s “4-in-4-out” rule that came into effect April 1.

Migrant workers who have been in Canada for four years will be barred from returning to Canada under the same program for another four years.

It is estimated that as many as 70,000 workers will be forced to leave, according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong.” - Gil McGowan, head of Alberta Federation of Labour[/quote]

Workers in managerial and professional occupations, or under international agreements such as NAFTA, and those who have already received approval letters for their permanent residence applications, are exempt.

Critics have condemned the April 1 implementation as an April Fool’s joke for the thousands who expected to be deported.

Veteran immigration consultant Michael Scott, writing for the Pilipino Express in Winnipeg, praised Gil McGowan — the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour — and quotes him speaking about the basic compassion held by Canadians: “It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong,” McGowan said.

McGowan pointed out that the expansion and abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is a result of the Harper government’s approach to the shortage of skilled workers inside Canada.

He added that the Conservatives created a “two-tier labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.”

International Outcry Wins Reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso

Canada was caught in the international outcry surrounding Indonesia’s aborted execution of Mary Jane Veloso, who a firing squad was scheduled to execute on April 28. 

The mother of two won a reprieve from the Indonesian government after Philippine President Aquino reportedly broke protocol by speaking directly to the Indonesian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

The migrant’s rights group Migrante Canada, which has organizations in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., spearheaded the Canadian effort to lobby for Veloso’s release, alongside organizations like Migrante International, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), Bayan Canada and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).

According to the Philippine Asian Chronicle, members of Migrante B.C. (pictured above) rallied outside the Indonesian consulate in Vancouver on April 24.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Migrante B.C.] held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad.[/quote]

In a press release, Migrante B.C. coordinator Jane Ordinario said that although Veloso had already been transferred to ‘Execution Island,’ the group would not give up hope, adding that many individuals and organizations were calling on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant her clemency.

The group held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad. 

Ordinario added that the group had met with the Philippine Consul General, Neil Ferrer, to submit its demands.

Migrante held a noon vigil on April 28 in front of the Indonesian consulate followed by a community prayer at the Multicultural Helping House Society to celebrate that Veloso’s execution had been cancelled.

Michael Davantes Voted Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian

Mabuhay Montreal TV (MMTV) anchor, Michael Davantes, has been named the ‘Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian’ in Canada.

The Montreal-based North American Filipino Star’s Fely Rosales Carino writes, “The word beautiful can be defined in many different ways. It commonly describes those with physical attributes; however, it can also describe someone who has demonstrated an extraordinary achievement or success.”

The International Professional Entertainment Network chose Davantes, because as Carino reports, the network honours those who have made an “impact in the community, or even in somebody else’s life.” The Network has made it clear that it believes Davantes to be a beautiful person inside and out.

The fifth annual Most Beautiful Filipinos in Canada Awards ceremony was held in Toronto on January 31, 2015. There, Davantes received an award of recognition.

In the past, the anchor has been a recipient of Vanier College’s “Life Award” for scholastic achievement and tremendous community service. He has also held the “Outstanding Graduate of the Year” title by the Philippine Benevolent and the Scholarship Society of Quebec (PBSSQ) and been recognized as one of the “Most Outstanding Filipino-Canadians” by the Bb. Pilipinas World Pageant for helping build a positive image for Filipinos in Canada.

Calling him “dynamic” Carino’s article also lists all of Davantes’ many talents as he has worked as a medical lab technician, model trainer and agent, international pageant director, public relations and marketing consultant, musical theatre actor and an environmental columnist in the past.

Manila: A Dangerous Place for Lawyers

Just as Philippine President Aquino left Canada last week, The Law Society of Upper Canada said it is deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations faced by lawyers and judges in the Philippines, reported the Filipino Post.

The Post article speaks to an incident last summer when an unidentified motorcycle gunmen killed lawyer Rodolfo Felicio (pictured to the left) on August 24, making him the fifth member of the Filipino activist group, National Union of People’s Lawyers, to have been killed in the past 10 years.

Reports indicate that at least 41 lawyers and 18 judges have been murdered in the Philippines since 2001. An increasing number of lawyers and judges have been harassed and attacked.

The Law Society urged the government of the Philippines to put an end to all acts of violence and harassment against human rights lawyer and defenders in the nation, and guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological safety and integrity of all human rights lawyers and defenders, according to the article.

According to the Basic Report on the Human Rights Lawyers under Continuing Threat in the Philippines, in these cases “only very scarcely a perpetrator is arrested and nearly never prosecuted or punished by the courts.”

The Post makes note that in its World Report 2015 Human Rights Watch stated that Aquino continues to send “mixed signals” about his administration’s commitment to improving human rights in the Philippines.

“While human rights was a key agenda for Aquino when he took office in 2010, he has failed to make good on many of his commitments, chiefly his expressed intent to end killings of activists and journalists and bring those responsible to justice,” stated the report.

Photos sourced from the original stories that were summarized from ethnic media outlets cited.

Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of

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Published in The Philippines

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

After a whirlwind of quick stops that took him first to Chicago and then to Ottawa and Toronto, President Benigno Aquino III ended his first North American visit in Vancouver Saturday.

But the small audiences that came to see him on the west coast marred whatever political mileage his host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was clearly aiming for.

Even more disconcerting were the dogged persistence of a small, but militant, advocacy group, Migrante Canada, which describes itself as "an active defender of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino migrants" and in some ways was able to distract attention from Aquino during the Toronto and Vancouver visits.

According to a pamphlet the organization gave out during the protest, Migrante B.C. is deploring the President's visit as a, “ploy to create a fictitious image of the Harper government’s harmonious relationship with our community in Canada, which at this very moment is reeling from the recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program and the overhaul of the former Live-in Caregiver Program.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.[/quote]

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the changes to the program last year affecting temporary workers and caregivers under the ‘four in and four out’ rule. A worker must work in Canada for fours years and return to the country of origin for fours years before applying again. Those affected by the rule were deported starting April 1 this year.

Vancouver protesters were actually duped by the visit organizers, as they were under the false impression the event would be held at the Pan Pacific Hotel – just a block away from the Vancouver Convention Centre.

When the protesters arrived at the hotel they had to regroup in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Police told them to move their demonstration to a nearby street but they refused, moving just a few metres from the front of the convention centre.

By this time almost all of the people attending were already inside the building and did not notice the demonstration.

Most of the people who stopped to listen to the speeches of the protesters were tourists who were walking around the Coal Harbour seawall, as two cruise ships were at the dock.

Except for the CBC, all of the mainstream media and local Filipino media were inside covering the reception. It is doubtful if Aquino himself knew about the protest, although a couple of TV camera men with the presidential entourage quickly passed the demonstrators and hurried back inside the centre.

Not the Media Frenzy of Modi

To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi before Aquino.[/quote]

The Philippine Inquirer put the crowd at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall at 2,000, while Luisa Marshall of Vancouver’s Simply the Best television show estimated that “about 300 to 400 people” were in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few weeks before the Philippine leader's arrival.

It was the Philippine Embassy officials’ failure to prepare adequately for a state visit that followed such a ‘celebrity visitor’ (Modi).

Perhaps the Philippine planners were tired and weary after the defeat of their icon Manny Pacquaio at the hands of Floyd Mayweather a week before, which resulted in the confusion.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.[/quote]

Nonetheless for those who did show up, Aquino tried his best to entertain.

According to The Inquirer, the President began his speech in English, but shifted to Tagalog a couple of sentences after.

Aquino talks in ‘Taglish’ (a combination of English and Tagalog), or in straight Tagalog depending on his audience – the first and only Filipino president to do so. 

The Inquirer reported that in Toronto Aquino apologized to the non-Filipino speakers for the shift, saying that there are nuances in the language that get across concepts better to a 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,” stated Inquirer writer Marisa Roque.

Underestimating Winnipeg

If there were kababayans disappointed about this historic visit, it was the Filipinos in Winnipeg who felt betrayed by their city being skipped in the itinerary.

Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.

Winnipeg elected the first Filipino Member of Parliament – Dr. Rey Pagtakhan – who was elected in 1988. Dr. Conrad Santos, the first Filipino member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, was elected in 1981 and served non-consecutive terms up until 2007.

There are now two Filipino members of the legislative assembly – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino – as well as City Councillor Mike Pagtakhan. Several Filipinos are also elected school board trustees.

British Columbia is the only other province to elect a Filipino member of the legislative assembly with Mable Elmore of the New Democratic Party first being elected in 2009.

Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of

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Published in Commentary
Friday, 08 May 2015 21:30

Aquino Skips Winnipeg

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

Philippine President Benigno Aquino is bypassing Winnipeg, home to one of Canada’s fastest growing and oldest Filipino communities, as he heads to Vancouver tomorrow for the final stop in his state visit.

“I couldn’t care less,” says Monina Relano, by telephone from Winnipeg.

Relano, who was one of the pillars of the anti-Marcos movement, August Twenty One Movement (ATOM) in Winnipeg, during Aquino’s mother Corazon’s time as president, minced no words in her distaste for Filipino politicians, including Aquino.

“I’m not very impressed with PNoy – he’s just one TRAPO politician,” says the retired teacher. TRAPO, which means ‘rag’, is the derogatory description of traditional politicians used by Filipinos.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Clearly the importance of this visit cannot be overemphasized and would have given the President a chance to see and experience the vibrant Filipino community in Winnipeg.” - Reis Pagtakhan, immigration lawyer[/quote]

Yet, some members of Winnipeg’s large Filipino community say they’re disappointed their city isn’t on Aquino’s itinerary this week.

“I was disappointed to hear about it, given the growing Filipino population, not just in Winnipeg, but in Manitoba itself,” says immigration lawyer Reis Pagtakhan (pictured to the right), by phone from Winnipeg.

“Clearly the importance of this visit cannot be overemphasized and would have given the President a chance to see and experience the vibrant Filipino community in Winnipeg,” Pagtakhan explained, adding that Winnipeg and Manitoba has a lot of ‘firsts’ (referring to the many elected Filipino politicians). “[We] have a lot to offer as to how Filipinos can contribute to this society and to the home country.”

Pagtakhan also mentioned that there was even some discussion last year to having a direct flight from Winnipeg to Manila by Philippine Airlines (PAL). 

“It’s unfortunate that he’s not visiting here,” said Jon Reyes, an aspiring provincial politician and former president of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. “A lot of Filipinos were anticipating seeing him.” 

Reyes is facing a nomination meeting tomorrow (May 9) for the Provincial Conservatives in the Maples riding where two other Filipinos – former Member of the Legislative Assembly, Cris Aglugub, and perennial candidate Jose ‘Boy’ Tomas are challenging him. 

“I guess he has too much in his plate,” said Reyes who received an invitation from the Prime Minister’s Office on May 1 to meet Aquino in Ottawa yesterday. Reyes couldn’t make it. 

Poorly Planned Visit: Critics 

The fact that Aquino is not stopping in Winnipeg comes as a surprise since Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself announced the foreign president’s visit at Winnipeg’s Jimel’s International Cuisine on April 23.

“Personally, I think it would’ve been a very good gesture,” Pilipino Express editor-in-chief Emmie Joaquin told the Winnipeg Free Press in an interview. 

Joaquin said she heard Harper say Aquino would be stopping in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Filipino newspaper editors in Toronto complained as early as April that they were not properly briefed as to the details of the visit.[/quote]

Having worked in Filipino media for decades, Joaquin said this is the fastest she’s seen a president’s visit to Canada announced and planned.

Earlier visits by former Philippine presidents, including Corazon Aquino, were announced months in advance, with detailed itineraries spelled out, she said.

For this visit, she added, the trip appears to have been planned on short notice. On May 6 she received an invitation to a reception in Toronto with Aquino on May 8.

“I was happy to be invited, but that’s really short notice,” she said.

Some people in the community have criticized the Philippine Consulate for the lack of preparation.

Filipino newspaper editors in Toronto complained in early April that they were not properly briefed on the details of the visit.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We do not welcome him here at all. The points we’ll raise tomorrow include his government’s grim record of human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and continued neglect of the rights of Filipino migrant workers.” - Jane Ordinario, Migrante-BC[/quote]

In Vancouver, Philippine consulate officials were tight-lipped, and there appears to be confusion as to where the venue for the Vancouver reception will be.

The Vancouver Sun reported the Vancouver Convention Centre, while other outlets said it would be at the Pan Pacific Hotel

Our e-mail to the Vancouver Consulate was not answered by deadline.

Meanwhile, Migrante B.C. will be going ahead with its planned demonstration against President Aquino’s reception tomorrow at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

“We do not welcome him here at all,” says Jane Ordinario, Migrante-BC Coordinator. “The points we’ll raise tomorrow include his government’s grim record of human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and continued neglect of the rights of Filipino migrant workers.” 

She added that Harper’s role in worsening the conditions for temporary foreign workers in Canada would also be highlighted along with other issues.

“Prime Minister Harper is also sadly mistaken if he believes inviting President Aquino might boost his popularity with the Filipino community. Many are actually clamouring for President Aquino’s ouster and his latest satisfaction rating is at its lowest ever,” she concluded in the statement.

New Bilateral Initiatives Announced 

While some groups like Migrante-BC question Harper’s motives when it comes to Aquino’s visit, Canada's PM announced the new bilateral initiatives that emerged on Parliament Hill today. These initiatives, in the area of trade, investment and global security, are what both leaders stated was the primary purpose of the trip in the weeks leading up to it.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The initiatives announced today clearly demonstrate that both countries are committed to further enhancing our bilateral relationship with a particular emphasis on commerce, development and security.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

One such trade initiative announced was the launch of discussions exploring a Canada-Philippines free trade agreement, which would aim to strengthen economic ties between the two countries. Canadian businesses and exporters are expected to greatly benefit from such an agreement.                                                  

Also announced were three specific initiatives aimed at enhancing collaboration with the Philippines to counter regional and global security threats, including capacity building for port and maritime security, as well as police officers, in the Asian-Pacific country.

“Canada and the Philippines share a close friendship based on shared values and significant people-to-people ties,” said Harper. “The initiatives announced today clearly demonstrate that both countries are committed to further enhancing our bilateral relationship with a particular emphasis on commerce, development and security.”

Aquino will conclude his three-day state visit to Canada May 9 in Vancouver.

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by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

The first visit of a Philippine president to Canada in 20 years has stirred Filipinos across the country as they eagerly await the arrival of President Benigno Aquino III (or PNoy, to most Filipinos) in early May.

But while most Filipinos are eager to meet Aquino during his May 7-9 visit, Migrante BC’s Jane Ordinario says her group is planning a rally against Aquino.

“We strongly oppose the visit because Aquino has a poor human rights record. He does not embody the values of human rights that Canada has,” says Ordinario. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“He has no respect for migrant workers, as proven by his late response to the appeal to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso.” - Jane Ordinario, Migrante BC[/quote] 

“He has no respect for migrant workers, as proven by his late response to the appeal to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso,” Ordinario adds.

Veloso was convicted of drug trafficking and scheduled to be executed on April 28 in Indonesia. She won a last-minute reprieve and was saved from the firing squad.

Aquino is expected to visit Ottawa, as well as Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, where he will meet with the large Filipino communities in these cities.

He will also make a one-day working visit to the United States to meet with potential investors and with the local Filipino community in Chicago.

“We do not have any definite confirmation of the visit yet,” says Philippine Honorary Consul General Orlando Marcelino by telephone from Winnipeg.

“Syempre presidente yan, gusto nating makita [Of course we want to have a meet-and-greet] — a forum, here in Winnipeg,” adds Marcelino.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I look forward to meeting with President Aquino to further strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including in the areas of trade, investment, development and security, benefiting the citizens of both nations.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

Elected in 2010 (pictured to the right), Aquino is on his last two years of a six-year term. He is not the first of his family to visit Canada.

In 1989, his mother, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, fresh from overthrowing the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the People Power Revolution, was the first Philippine president to visit Canada.

“[Aquino] is most welcome, but so far, wala pa kaming narinig sa konsulado [we haven’t heard from the consulate],” says Tomas Avendano, president and CEO of Vancouver’s Multicultural Helping House Society.

The Canada-Philippines Relationship

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada and the Philippines enjoy a “close friendship” as they have shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties. After all, Canada is The Phillipines’ sixth top source market for tourism, and is home to almost 700,000 Filipinos.

“I look forward to meeting with President Aquino to further strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including in the areas of trade, investment, development and security, benefiting the citizens of both nations,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a press release announcing the visit.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is a significant visit as Canada tries to move up its relationship with the Philippines.” - Hugh Stephens, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada[/quote]

Harper visited Manila in 2012 and met with Aquino at the Malacañan Palace. It was the first visit by a Canadian prime minister in 15 years.

Some community leaders, like Hugh Stephens, senior fellow at the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, agree with Harper’s viewpoint. “It is a significant visit as Canada tries to move up its relationship with the Philippines,” says Stephens.

Discussions between the two prime ministers will focus on expanding trade and investment, as Canada is the Philippines’ 21st largest trading partner and bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $1.8 billion in 2014.

In addition, though, Stephens says mutual agreement on recognizing international credentials and removing barriers would be a logical area of discussion.This is because Canada’s largest source of temporary foreign workers, as well as domestic workers, under the federal Live-in Caregiver Program, is The Philippines.  

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by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver  

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently granted one of the largest awards given to a Filipino caregiver, a win that Filipino-American expert on labour and migration, Dr. Anna Guevarra, calls 'monumental'. 

The caregiver, known only by the initials PN, was awarded $5,866.89 for lost wages and $50,000 as damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. 

She worked for a year in Hong Kong before being brought to Canada in July 2013 by her employers (also identified by their initials, FR and MR). According to the decision handed down on April 1, PN was treated like a "virtual slave."

“Im happy to see that the case was recognized as a human rights issue,” adds Dr. Guevarra by phone from Chicago, where she is the director of the Asian American Program at the University of Illinois.

Hopefully this would encourage other workers to come forward [about] their isolation,says Guevarra, before adding that the decision is an important one and a milestone for the Filipino communitys struggle for human rights. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“She was isolated, underfed and treated like she was sub-human; all because she was a young Filipino mother who needed the job to take care of her own children. I would like to think that this behaviour does not occur in B.C.” - Catherine McCreary[/quote]

Born in the Philippines, but raised and educated in the U.S., Dr. Guevarra has been published by many journals. She is an expert in immigrant labour and global care workersshe specializes in domestic workers.

Her written work on the stereotyping and prejudice suffered by many Filipino domestic workers played a crucial role in the tribunal decision taken by member Catherine McCreary. 

A Harrowing Tale

The tribunal decision chronicles sexual abuse, assault and harassment from the hands of the male employer, as well as verbal and physical abuse from the female employer and their children in Hong Kong and in Canada.

While working for the respondents, PN was exploited,writes McCreary in the tribunal decision. She had to perform sexual acts at the whim and insistence of her employer, she was humiliated and degraded by her other employer, and she was even made fun of by the children who were in her care. She was isolated, underfed and treated like she was sub-human; all because she was a young Filipino mother who needed the job to take care of her own children. I would like to think that this behaviour does not occur in BC.

The family lived in a hotel in Richmond while buying a house. PN had to sleep on a couch in the living room. Less than six weeks later, she fled the hotel alleging that the sexual and verbal abuse she suffered in Hong Kong continued in Canada. She fled with only the clothes she was wearing and no passport, money or any other belongings.

She sought directions to the Philippine Consulate in Vancouver, but when she got there the office was closed because it was Sunday. A Filipino store worker allowed her to use the phone with which she contacted the police. She was later referred to the womens shelter, Deborahs Gate, by sympathetic church people she met at the mall.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is an unusual case in that the complainant took this all the way to a hearing – it is extraordinary for her to do that.” - Lawyer Devyn Cousineau[/quote]

According to the court, the police initially declined to help saying that, the jurisdiction for solving her problem was in Hong Kong, not in Canada.

It was only after FR reported her missing to police that they came to interview her. 

According to McCrearys decision, “when she first came to Deborahs Gate, the staff found that she was malnourished and sleep deprived. She would not make eye contact with staff or other residents. She often cried in her room. She would ask for permission to do the most mundane things. It was clear to the staff person who testified that PN had been traumatized.

Damaging Stereotypes

Quoting Guevarra, the tribunal said, Filipino domestic workers are often marketed as obedient, hardworking, God-fearing, loyal, honest, cooperative, and compliant. At the same time, she says that they are also promoted as highly educated, skilled, and exhibiting a high tolerance for stressful conditions.

Filipinos made up 50 per cent of Hong Kongs foreign domestic population, which totalled 320,000, in 2013.

Lawyer Devyn Cousineau of the Community Legal Assistance Society represented PN. The respondents retained lawyer Winnie Leung and another Hong Kong lawyer when the case started, but HR eventually represented himself via videoconference from Hong Kong during the hearing, Cousineau said in a telephone interview. 

Final Outcomes

PN remains in Canada, although the visitors visa under which she was brought into the country was good for only three months.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The tribunaldecision came barely a month after Franco Orr, who was convicted in 2013 of human trafficking in Vancouver in another case that involved another Filipino domestic helper, won a retrial of his case.[/quote]

Cousineau said work is under way to forward the tribunal decision to the B.C. Supreme Court and register it as an order of the court against the property. The family against whom PN brought up the case is believed to be in Hong Kong, but owns property in B.C.

It is an unusual case in that the complainant took this all the way to a hearing it is extraordinary for her to do that,says Cousineau, who praised PN for her courage.

When asked why the case did not end up in court, Cousineau said police did not have enough evidence, but believes they are continuing their investigation.

The tribunals decision came barely a month after Franco Orr, who was convicted in 2013 of human trafficking in Vancouver in another case that involved another Filipino domestic helper, won a retrial of his case. He was charged along with his wife, Oi Long Nicole Huen, who was acquitted after the couple's jury trial.

While there was no sexual assault alleged in this case, it remains similar to the current PN case in all other respects. Orr was convicted of human trafficking and sentenced to 18 months in jail. It is the first conviction for human trafficking in Canada involving a caregiver.  

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