MORE than 2,000 Fiipinos living in Toronto welcomed President Aquino during his visit here on May 6th. His speech was ala-SONA, reporting on the progress of his Daang Matuwid toward good, honest governance, but lightened up with Pinoy jokes.
Speaking in Tagalog, Aquino was warmly applauded especially when he gave examples of how millions of pesos have been saved through more transparent and effective management of public resources.
Why was Aquino invited to Canada? There’s a general perception that because it’s an election year, the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Harper is seeking the approval of ethnic, diaspora communities. Last month, India’s Prime Minister also came to visit Canada.
To reduce the state visit to mere political usury is to insult the accomplishments of the Filipino diaspora in Canada. The stronger relationship that’s evolving between Canadians and Filipinos deserves our deeper appreciation.
Harper celebrated the fact that the Philippines is now the top source country for temporary foreign workers, with more than 40,000 valid work permits issued in 2013. The Philippines is also the third top source country for new permanent residents who can live, work and study in Canada.
These numbers signal that Filipinos are seen as human resources valuable to Canada’s society and the country’s economic growth. Filipinos are found in every industry, in the largest cities and the smallest (and coldest) villages in Canada.
Doors to more opportunities are opening. That’s the result of the contributions of hardworking, honest Filipinos and the more reliable bilateral partnership anchored on Daang Matuwid. These should inspire us to use these opportunities so that many more Filipinos gain equitably from increased trade and migration.
The underpinning economic agenda is to expand trade and investment between the countries. How are we then preparing small and medium enterprises to participate in bilateral trade with Canada? How can the Philippines benefit to the fullest extent from the technological innovations of Canada in the medical sciences, infrastructure development, and the creative industries? How can we bring Filipino businesses and products to Canada? How do we help create more Filipino-owned businesses in Canada? Fil-Cans remit more than US$2 Billion back home. How are we working with both governments and the remittance businesses to help reduce remittance fees? How do we make sure that remittances are used so that families and their communities progress sustainably?
With new doors opening come many questions for the Filipino community here in Canada. How are we taking advantage of the increasing focus on our positive people-to-people connections? Perhaps up until Aquino’s visit, we in Canada have not fully appreciated the extent of our accomplishment as a “diplomatic” community. As a people, we have a much greater potential to create positive change for our community here and back home. In the words of Consul-General Junever Mahilum-West of Toronto, “marami po tayong galing, hindi natin pinapansin.”
Despite this, the Filipino-Canadian community is a quiet bunch of talented people. The groups are still fragmented when you compare them with other organized diaspora groups in Canada and in other countries. Many new immigrants are not yet part of social groups and are not sufficiently assisted by formal community support system here. Many new immigrants survive Canada through their own small social support systems, usually family members, schoolmates, or kababayans, who help them out in their first difficult years in a new country.
There’s a lot of organizing for collective action to do in Canada, and to tie that up with efforts by the government, civil society, faith-based groups, the academe, and businesses.
Rowena Basco-Sugay holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of the Philippines. She lives in Toronto, and continues to serve the Philippines as an international development specialist.