Canada needs 30,000 workers, preferably OFWs

HARDLY NOTICED BY OUR NORMALLY NOSEY media was the four-day conference of all the top officials in Asia of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which was held here last week. The meeting was so private that even Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo did not know it.

Canadian aid. CIDA is the Canadian equivalent of the USAID. During the last 20 years, it has dispensed about $600 million in assistance to the Philippines. Since the Canadian dollar is now at par with the US currency, the aid averages $30 million or P1.26 billion yearly at the present exchange rate of P42:$1.

CIDA focuses on governance and private sector development. It gives special attention to projects involving gender equality, environment protection, entrepreneurship, transparent and accountable governance, peace building and conflict management.

In 2002, CIDA granted our Supreme Court $7 million—spread over five years ending in July 2008—to support its judicial reform program in three areas: 1) alternative dispute resolution of cases; 2) continuing education for judges and court personnel; and 3) access to justice for the poor and marginalized.

Leading the meeting were CIDA Executive Vice President John McBride, Senior Vice President Hau Sing Tse (a Chinese-Canadian), Asia Director General Syed Sajjadur Rahman (a Bangladeshi-Canadian), Philippine CIDA head Tom Carroll and, of course, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Robert Desjardins.

As their luncheon guest speaker on May 8, I urged CIDA to use its vast resources to instill in Asia what the great late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau characterized as the “just society,” one that is “governed by the rule of law and built on the values of democracy, equality and liberty — a society in which all can participate, where all can pursue a dream, where all can enjoy the basic liberties of expression, association and movement—a society where everyone, regardless of race, creed or ethic background, has a place.”

Job opportunities. Another welcome news: Canada needs workers. Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba, a recent visitor, explained that because of the discovery of new oil in his Canadian province, and the holding of the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia, Canada has to hire 30,000 foreign workers. And because of their proven industry, adaptability and English fluency, Filipinos are preferred, the straight-talking premier told me.

Already, Manitoba has some 50,000 Filipino inhabitants who have remarkably blended with the social and economic fabric of the province that has a land area about the size of Texas. A Filipino-Canadian living in Manitoba, Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, had been elected to the Canadian Parliament and had served as Minister of Veteran Affairs.

Because of the large number of Filipinos in his province, Premier Doer dined with Chairman Lucio Tan of Philippine Airlines to invite him to extend PAL’s San Francisco run to Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital.

Encounter with the Canadian Supreme Court. One of the most delightful episodes of my judicial career was our encounter with the Canadian Supreme Court on June 18, 2002. Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin hosted lunch at her Court’s inner sanctum in Ottawa. After breaking bread, our delegation—composed of then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., Justice Ameurfina Melencio Herrera (chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy) and I—had a lively tête-à-tête with the Canadian justices.

To start the dialogue, Senior Justice (now retired) Claire L’Heureux-Dube remarked, “I notice that your decisions liberally quote from the US Supreme Court, especially from Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. However, I have yet to see one that cites our Supreme Court or our Canadian justices.”

For a moment, our delegation was stunned to speechlessness. But after a second or two of silence, I found my tongue and replied, “I must admit that Your Honor is correct. In its over 100 years of history, our Supreme Court has not used a Canadian precedent to buttress its judgments. But may I also venture my respectful observation that I, too, have yet to read a Canadian decision citing the Philippine Supreme Court.”

That exchange of banter broke the proverbial ice, so to speak, of our more in-depth discussions on the role of the judiciary in our respective nation’s history and development. May I add that I took the banter to heart. After returning home, I penned a decision, “People vs Genosa” (Jan. 15, 2004), adopting for the first time the “battered woman syndrome” as a form of self-defense, or at least a mitigating circumstance, in a prosecution for parricide. In that landmark case, I expressly cited a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

That encounter may have been a minor incident in the great history of the Canadian Court, but it was a major event of my judicial career. Indeed, it is not every day that the Canadian Supreme Court goes out of its somber ways to host and banter with jurists from a little country half-way across the globe.

I used that opportunity to invite Chief Justice McLachlin to visit us, which she did in October 2006. She attended (along with 300 other jurists and lawyers, including the chief justices of Russia, France, Slovakia, Nepal, etc.) the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity, which I convened when I was already chief justice of our country. She also received an honorary doctorate in law from the Ateneo de Manila University.

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