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.
“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
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.
Filipino newspaper editors in Toronto complained as early as April that they were not properly briefed as to the details of the visit.
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.
“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
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.
“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
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.
Ted Alcuitas is the founder of Canada's first Filipino newspaper, est. 1976. He is also former Senior Editor of Philippine Asian News Today and current publisher and editor of Philippine Canadian News.