Aquino’s low popularity, poor record won’t help Harper in Federal election

Community Opinion & Analysis May 1, 2015 at 8:16 pm


Commentary on President Aquino’s visit in Canada

By Bern Jagunos

Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes that when President Benigno Aquino visits Canada from May 4-12, 2015, his aura will rob off on him. The Prime Minister hopes the visit would provide him the opportunity to court the votes of Filipinos in Canada ahead of the fall federal election.

It appears, however, that the Prime Minister has not heard that the President’s aura has irreversibly dimmed, thanks to the latter’s atrocious human rights record, dismally inept leadership and the unbridled corruption of his administration. President Aquino’s popularity back home has sunk to record low.

Referring to a study by Global Witness, the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) points out that under President Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines ranks third among the most dangerous countries in the world for citizens who advocate for the protection of the environment. In 2014 alone, 15 Filipinos were killed by state agents because the Aquino government considered their opposition to large scale mining and other destructive resource extraction projects a threat to the state.

The Aquino government’s incompetence and neglect were manifest in the wake of the devastating Haiyan Typhoon, as $48 million of disaster relief money was found sitting in banks while victims were crying for help. It is enmeshed in a serious corruption scandal that led to the Philippine Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of Aquino’s Presidential Discretionary Assistance Funds, more commonly known as the biggest “pork barrel” in the country.

The counter-insurgency war, stubbornly pursued by President Aquino, which is designed to target not only the armed rebel groups and but also ordinary Filipinos critical of his administration and policies, has resulted in 241 assassinations of civilians, 491 political prisoners, 26 people abducted and missing and 59,612 Filipinos who have been forced to evacuate from their communities. Amazingly for a man who experienced human rights violation first hand, President Aquino has shown very little commitment to seek justice for victims and their families. A study by the Impunity and Justice Research Center of the Universidad de las Americas in Mexico shows that the Philippines holds the worst record of bringing perpetrators of violations to justice. President Aquino explains that the majority of the unresolved human rights cases were not committed under his administration.

Displaying the same lack of compassion and leadership expected of the President, Mr. Aquino told the mother of Mary Jane Veloso, who was saved at the last minute from execution on April 28 in Indonesia, that her problem was not the making of his government. Mary Jane was a victim of human traffickers, but more tragically she is a victim of the Aquino government’s neglect. According to Migrante International, the Aquino government failed for five years to provide her with proper and sufficient legal assistance, but his government is now shamelessly claiming credit for the suspension of her execution. The role of the collective people’s action in the Philippines and around the world in saving Mary Jane was affirmed by her family.

Behind the Mary Jane crisis lies a labour export policy that leads to the exodus of millions of desperate Filipinos, with over 5000 leaving the Philippines to work overseas every day. It appears that neither Mary Jane’s death sentence, nor the large numbers of Filipino temporary workers presently being forced to leave Canada under Prime Minister Harper’s law limiting their time in Canada to four years, will stop President Aquino from promoting the further export of Filipino workers during his visit. A deal on temporary workers is reportedly on his agenda with Prime Minister Harper. The Philippine government’s abysmal record in protecting overseas migrant workers warns us that any deal President Aquino secures from Canada will put the rights and welfare of Filipino workers secondary to consideration of the revenues going to the Philippine government’s coffers from the exploitation of their labour in Canada.

Prime Minister Harper, on the other hand, believes that he could win the votes of Filipino Canadians while at the same time instituting policies that are inimical to their interests. Many Filipinos in Canada look to the Live-In Caregivers Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as an opportunity for family and relatives to join them in Canada. Filipino temporary workers and those who come as live-in caregivers are among the worst hit by the reforms the Harper government has instituted in these programs. The new four-year in, four year out policy has resulted in tens of thousands of Filipino workers who are forced to leave Canada as their contracts expire. They cannot apply for a new contract for four years.

Prime Minister Harper’s policy has little consideration for the welfare of temporary workers from the Philippines and other countries. Its only interest is to ensure a steady supply of cheap labour for Canadian business. Similarly, the path for Live-In Caregivers to permanent residency has been narrowed down. To continue saving the high cost of a national childcare program the Harper government is allowing more live-in caregivers to enter Canada, but cutting the opportunity for the majority to stay here permanently.

There appears to be a lack of enthusiasm among Filipinos in Canada about the visit of President Aquino. The public welcome rally planned by the Philippine Consulate in Toronto to be held at the Ricoh Coliseum is reportedly moved to a smaller venue because there was no sign they could reach their target of mobilizing 10,000 Filipinos to attend. Community organizations have apparently been directed to recruit five from each of their groups to send to the event.

Let us hope that both Prime Minister Harper and President Aquino will get the message: Filipinos won’t be duped into supporting their anti-people schemes.