Canada PM Stephen Harper to praise Aquino for anti-corruption drive in Philippines

photo credit: ctvnews.ca

Stephen Harper to praise anti-corruption drive in Philippines

MANILA — Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper will pay tribute Saturday to the Philippines president for an anti-corruption campaign that has restored international confidence in the Southeast Asian nation.

Harper arrived here Friday evening for a quick stopover on a trip through the region. He meets with President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday, as well as business people.

It is the first time since 1997 that a Canadian prime minister has visited the Philippines.

Christopher Thornley, Canada's ambassador to the Philippines, said Friday that the country of 92 million people is experiencing an economic surge after decades of being held back by dishonest conduct by those in power.

"There has been a history of corruption in Filipino governments and Filipino society. It has been a hindrance to them.

He said international investors are pleased with how Aquino has been cleaning up the political system since he took office in 2010, and the country is on an economic roll.

"It's a country in an optimistic stage," said Thornley.

"It's a great time for Canada to be positioned, as I say, on the ground floor."

Harper and Aquino will meet at the presidential palace on Saturday.

Among the issues at the forefront: A continuation of Aquino's anti-corruption campaign; boosting Canada-Filipino trade ties, analyzing security threats from Islamic militant groups linked to al-Qaeda, and discussing the human trafficking both countries are trying to stop.

The two leaders will also point out the strong cultural connections that already bond their nations.

Since 2010, the Philippines has been the country sending the most immigrants to Canada.

There are more than 436,000 people of Philippine origin in Canada. Tagalog, the Philippine dialect, has become Canada's fastest growing immigrant language.

"Canada enjoys tremendous goodwill here," said Thornley. "Canada is viewed as the very top of the pecking order in terms of destination."

He said that Filipino immigrants integrate well into Canadian society and "fly under the radar" as they work hard to build a new life.

Harper's visit to the Philippines is sandwiched between a week-long trip to India and a quick stop Sunday in Hong Kong, where he will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies at a cemetery of Canadian soldiers who died during the Second World War.

Throughout this trip, Harper has repeatedly declared that Canada's future economic prosperity hinges on how well it expands its trade into emerging markets, such as those in Asia.

Canadian officials are keen to make the Philippines a prime target for future Canadian trade and investment. The two countries already have a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) — a pact designed to give greater legal comfort to investors so they know they can do business here with greater certainty.

Last year, Canada exported $554.7 million in merchandise to the Philippines — mainly minerals, meat, fertilizers and wood. The same year, Canada imported $915.9 million from the Philippines.

Those figures are bound to grow in future years, as the Philippines becomes a bigger economic player. The country had the world's 44th largest economy this year, but if current trends hold, it could jump to 16th place by 2050.

Economic growth in the Philippines was 6.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

Almost two thirds of the population is of working age, providing the conditions for a strong economy fuelled by workers who pay taxes and form a strong middle class.

The country has a large call-centre industry, with many companies in the West outsourcing their phone work to Filipino workers.

All these pre-conditions have set up the country for a strong future, say many analysts. But there are some problems that it must overcome: Natural disasters, decades of political instability caused by high-level corruption, and violence caused by rebels seeking independence.

The country's leaders have been trying to control the violence stemming from Islamic rebels  — some of whom have been linked to al-Qaeda.

The country has plagued by floods, such as the one this past summer that left part of Manila under water.

The current president, Aquino, is a member of a political family. His father was an opposition leader who was assassinated in 1983, sparking a public uprising that led to the departure of the autocratic President Ferdinand Marcos. His mother, Corazon Aquino, was president from 1986 until 1992.

Political turmoil has been a fact of life in the country.

Last year, Aquino's government brought corruption charges against his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo. She was detained for months on charges of election bid-rigging. Ultimately, a judge ruled the charges were weak and she was released.

However, more corruption charges were laid against her last month in connection to misuse of state lottery funds while she was president.

mkennedy(at)postmedia.com.

Twitter.com/Mark_Kennedy_

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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