by Veronica C. Silva (@VSilvaCusi) in Toronto
From Ottawa to Toronto to Vancouver, protest actions met Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III wherever he went on his three-day state visit to Canada.
In Toronto, protesters gathered earlier than the scheduled opening of doors at 3 p.m. At around the same time, some Filipino guests invited to the ‘by-invitation-only’ event also started to line up to enter the venue.
Groups of Filipino-Canadian protestors, joined by their Canadian supporters, numbered at about 200 by their estimate, turned up to advocate against some policies of both Aquino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Among the issues that the protesters brought to the fore were Aquino’s alleged human rights violations, the Mamasapano deadly encounter, Mary Jane Veloso’s death row case in Indonesia and the plight of other Filipinos overseas on death row and the policies affecting Filipino temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada, including live-in caregivers.
“Migrant rights, human rights under attack, what do you do? Stand up! Fight back!” chanted the protesters.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues. It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.” – Jesson Reyes, Migrante Canada[/quote]
Dan Harris, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament in Scarborough Southwest, joined protesters outside the venue as he reiterated the NDP’s opposition to the Conservatives’ immigration policies and the C-51 anti-terrorism bill.
“Good enough to work, good enough to stay!” Harris said, joining in the chant.
“Just this week, both the Liberals and the Conservatives voted in favour of C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation that allows them to infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that’s a disgrace,” said Harris, as the crowd answered with, “Shame!”
Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne also met with Aquino as shown in the picture to the right. (Photo Credit: Wynne’s official Twitter account.)
Migrante Canada, one of the groups protesting, said it was reaching out to the Kababayans (Filipino countrymen) who attended the Toronto event also.
“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues,” said Jesson Reyes, regional coordinator for Migrante Canada in Ontario. “It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.”
He also noted that the two state leaders talked about nothing new in their speeches, and he took aim at the objective behind the state visit.
“It is without a doubt that certainly one of the few agendas of PNoy’s visit to Canada is for the Conservatives to secure the votes of Filipino-Canadian voters in the upcoming federal elections,” said Reyes. “By listening to the tone of the Prime Minister, he ensured people yesterday that his government’s ‘promises’ will be kept for so long as he is seated in Ottawa.”
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.” – Stephen Harper[/quote]
In a press conference in Ottawa, earlier in the day, Harper defended the controversial TFW program, which affects thousands of Filipinos.
“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility,” said Harper in Ottawa.
And Aquino responded: “I think that policy should be held proud, not criticized.”
Reacting to this, Reyes said: “It shows that PNoy and his government do not have a clear understanding of the plight of TFWs in Canada and the abuses many of our Kababayans face by not having a permanent status.”
Migrante Canada joins other migrant groups in calling for landed status for foreign workers. The organization also deplores the Philippines’ labour export policy, which is driving many Filipinos to seek employment elsewhere.
The Conservative Campaign
In the weeks leading up to Aquino’s visit media reports reiterated Reyes’ sentiment that the state visit could be a strategy of the Conservatives to try to win over the Filipino community in Canada – estimated to number from half a million to 700,000 – in time for federal elections scheduled in fall. In recent years, the Philippines has been one of the top source countries for immigrants to Canada, next to China and India.
In Toronto, the state leaders spoke to a crowd of some thousands of members of the Filipino-Canadian community at Roy Thomson Hall. While Aquino’s speech was the highlight of the community gathering, Harper brought in his campaign team to cheer for him.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.[/quote]
National Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney (MP, Calgary Southeast), who was formerly Citizenship and Immigration Minister, wore a Barong Tagalog and gamely posed for photographs with some Filipinos in the lobby after the event.
Kenney has been credited for winning the so-called ethnic votes for the Tories in the 2011 elections.
Not to be outdone, federal Finance Minister and Torontonian Joe Oliver told the crowd: “Jason Kenney may be wearing a barong, but I’ve reached the third level in the Knights of Rizal,” something which drew applause from the crowd.
But it was Harper who got the loudest applause for revealing: “I’m also going to note – with some pride – that on my wife’s side, I now also personally have some Filipino relatives.” He didn’t elaborate though.
The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.
Filipinos Integral Part of Canada: Harper
“The President’s visit gives our government, gives Canadians, the chance to recognize and celebrate the success and contributions of Canada’s Filipino community,” said Harper.
As an example of this Filipino success, the Prime Minister proudly recognized the Filipino-Canadian designer who created the logo of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which will be in 2017, Ariana Mari Cuvin of Toronto.
Harper went on to enumerate Filipino qualities that have become world famous – work ethic, loyalty, and deep faith: “Filipino-Canadians have now become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadian society.”
Then, there was the reminder of Canada’s multi-million dollar aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in late 2013.
“During those dark days, Canada was there for our friends in the Philippines,” said Harper. “Canada was, in fact, the third largest humanitarian donor in the world to the relief efforts, a drive led by Filipino-Canadians that our government was proud to match dollar for dollar right across this country.”
In early 2014, it was announced that individual Canadians contributed over $85 million in eligible donations.
Canada also sent relief teams to the Philippines to help out and has committed more assistance in the reconstruction of areas affected by the typhoon.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.[/quote]
When it was his turn to address the audience, Aquino spoke in Tagalog and focused on his administration’s accomplishments during a speech interlaced with jokes.
Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.
For example, in boasting of his administration’s infrastructure projects, Aquino told the Toronto crowd the same joke about the new Lullutan Bridge in Isabela.
“Ang tawag kaya, ang buong pangalan kaya nito ay Lullutang at Lulubog Bridge? (Do they call this bridge Lullutang (floating) and Lulubog (sinking) Bridge?),” Aquino asked the audience in Toronto. And like in Chicago, this part of the speech elicited the same response of laughter.
Also like in Chicago, Aquino boasted about his administration’s job programs and economic gains, adding that the numbers he presented were actual statistics.
But there were other projects Aquino mentioned to the Toronto crowd like achievements in the coconut industry and in the Philippines’ weather forecasting capabilities.
Amidst the mix of cheers, standing ovations and protests, both state leaders outlined the gains earned from the state visit.
Canada announced more aid and assistance to the Philippines, which has been identified as a country of focus for Canada’s international development efforts, and initiatives were announced in the areas of free trade, occupational health and safety, development assistance, police and security, and counter terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.
Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.