Increased development cooperation seen with Canada’s Indo-Pacific push

2023 March 6

‘INDO-PACIFIC PUSH’. From left, Filipino Canadian Member of the Parliament Rechie Valdez, Canadian Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan and Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines David Hartman during a meeting with DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo in Manila. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Embassy in Manila) 

MANILA – The Philippines can expect increased development cooperation with Ottawa as the Canadian government implements its 2.3 billion Canadian dollar Indo-Pacific strategy that seeks to position Canada as a reliable partner in the region.

Canadian Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan, who met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on March 3, said Ottawa will strengthen collaboration with the country in building capacity, especially in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), combatting illegal fishing, food security, agriculture and health.

“As part of our strategy, (we visited the Philippines) to listen and learn to allow us to figure out what would be the next steps toward implementing our strategy,” he told reporters over the weekend as he capped off his official visit to the country.

Sajjan said Canada’s Indo-Pacific push has a strong disaster response component which spans from climate change mitigation, preventing destruction from typhoons down to improving capacity for recovery efforts.

On combating illegal fishing, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, Ottawa has a CAD7 million program that uses state-of-the-art technology to detect vessels whose location transmitting devices have been switched off, often in an attempt to evade surveillance.

To note, IUU had been a perennial problem in the Philippines, especially in the West Philippine Sea. In a 2021 report, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) said illegal fishing pre-pandemic amounted to PHP62 billion.

“Illegal fishing is a very significant issue here and it’s something that I’ve been tracking very closely but let’s not forget it’s also a significant issue around the world,” Sajjan said.

“The discussion that we had is that the international community, including Canada needs to be very supportive of the Philippines when it comes to their fishing rights,” he added.

Sajjan said officials would still need to flesh out details on specific activities but there are “many different facets” of cooperation that the two states could look at especially as Canada has “significant expertise when it comes to maritime domain awareness”.

The official said he discussed this with Manila and he looks forward to “taking things to the next step”.

“[M]ore importantly, what we also talked about was ultimately, when a country succeeds and its citizens thrive through economic opportunity, that is one best way to send a strong message to any nation that would look at trying to undermine its own sovereignty,” he said.

“And in Canada, we are very strong proponents of Philippine sovereignty because we have such strong people-to-people ties,” he added.

He said Canada would also use its development portfolio to further increase the capacity of Filipinos to create greater economic opportunity for themselves.

“When you look at our Indo Pacific strategy, it is not separate in defense, development, trade. It’s integrated all together. So fortunately when it comes to our development portfolio, because we’ve already have done some really good work together over the over decades, it allows us to build on something where we already have a strong foundation,” he said.

During the meeting with Manalo, the officials also discussed how Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy can complement the two states’ deepening bilateral ties.

Manalo said they explored ways to promote a rules-based order in the South China Sea.

Canada and the Philippines are set to mark 75 years since the establishment of their diplomatic relation in 2024.

At present, Canada’s official development assistance to the country has already reached 1 billion Canadian dollars (approximately PHP40 billion) since 1986 

Joyce Ann Rocamora