Just days after Filipinos worldwide suffered the blow of boxer Manny Pacquiao’s loss to American Floyd Mayweather, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino landed in North America, first in Chicago yesterday, and then in Ottawa today, for a three day Canadian state visit.
Though the visit didn’t generate quite the media frenzy as last month’s visit from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aquino was met with a warm, but fairly private, welcome in the nation’s capital.
The visit, which sparked mixed reactions from the Filipino-Canadian community, is aimed at strengthening the relationship between both countries and their respective leaders.
The Philippines is Canada’s third largest source of immigrants from Asia, right after India and China respectively. And while Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver have large Filipino Diasporas, the growing community of 700,000 plus extends as far as up north in the Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
“Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses. We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women.” – Governor General David Johnston
For Aquino, he left his home country making vows that this visit is about establishing closer ties between Canada and the Philippines when it comes to trade and investment, and hopefully increasing tourism to the Asian-Pacific nation.
And while Stephen Harper expressed a similar interest in improving bilateral relations in the weeks leading up to today’s visit, some think both Modi and Aquino’s visits are well-timed attempts to increase support for the Conservatives in the Indo- and Filipino-Canadian communities.
“Canada and the Philippines enjoy a close friendship based on shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties,” said Harper in an official statement leading up to Aquino’s arrival. “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, benefitting the citizens of both nations.”
It wasn’t all handshakes and trade talk for Aquino today, who met with Governor General Dave Johnston upon arrival.
Following the meeting Aquino took part in a tree planting ceremony – 26 years after his mother, Corazon Aquino, planed a red maple on Rideau Hall, he continued the tradition planting seeds for a red spruce.
“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses.” – Stewart Beck, President and CEO of Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada
“As you know, President Aquino, our two countries have so much in common,” said Johnston in his welcoming speech. “Yours is one of the most vibrant and rapidly developing regions in the world, with great opportunities to achieve success and some new challenges to overcome. Canada, in turn, is pleased to support the Philippines’ long-term commitments in areas of security, disaster management, development and humanitarian aid.”
In the evening, a special dinner at Rideau Hall was arranged for President Aquino by Johnston and his wife.
“Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses,” Johnston said at dinner. “We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women.”
Johnston pointed out that the steady growth in commercial ties, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $1.8 billion in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year, adds to already strong “people-to-people ties”.
“Your visit goes a long way toward advancing the relationship between Canada and the Philippines. Thank you and the members of your delegation once again for coming. Now, let us raise a glass to the many ties that bind our two countries in friendship.”
On tap for Aquino tomorrow is a roundtable in Toronto with prominent members of the Canadian business community hosted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada), with support from Sun Life Financial and in association with the Canadian ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council. Its purpose is to explore opportunities for trade and investment with the Philippines.
“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses,” said Stewart Beck, President and CEO of APF Canada.
On Saturday, Aquino will close out his Canadian visit on the west coast where he is expected to hold a reception at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.