Friday, August 26, 2011

A questionable badge of honour

History is replete with men who have fought in wars or served in military uniform and later became their nation’s leaders. Names like Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy were just a few whose war-time exploits enhanced their electability. Even Ferdinand Marcos used his heroic deeds during the Filipino resistance against the Japanese, whether true or embellished, to build up his qualities to become president.

At the first EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, soldiers in uniform were held in respect for not shooting their rifles at the throng of peaceful demonstrators. They became instant heroes to the people, and the revolution succeeded without blood spilt on the street. Later, however, the respect for the uniform would eventually lose its lustre as the military became implicated in allegations of abuses against human rights, disappearances and extra-judicial executions.

The response by the New York police and firemen during the September 11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers similarly elevated them in America’s pedestal of heroes. Every policeman and fireman in New York would from then on be regarded by the city’s denizens with certain deference.

The young men and women who would later continue the war against terrorism in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq would also garner the esteem and honour the American people would bestow on the military. In its brushes with history and involvement in foreign wars, the military uniform has become a strong and sacred symbol for Americans.
United States' marines at Khakresh, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Darrin Roark.
Click link
to view "Marines in Action in Afghanistan."
The same goes for Canada. Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation has designated the stretch of Highway 401 (MacDonald-Cartier Freeway) between Glen Miller Road in Trenton, Ontario, and the intersection of the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 404 in Toronto as the Highway of Heroes in honour of Canada’s fallen soldiers who died in service in Afghanistan. This length of the highway is often travelled by a convoy of vehicles carrying a fallen soldier's body, with his or her family, from CFB Trenton to the coroner's office at the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto. Since 2002, when the first of Canada's fallen soldiers were returned from Afghanistan, crowds have lined the overpasses to pay their respects as convoys pass.

For the United States and Canada, soldiers in the warfront are warriors fighting the enemies of democracy and freedom, in order that every American and Canadian would be able to live freely and without fear. Even if the wars they’re fighting are often wrong, they owe these men and women in uniform their utmost respect and gratitude.

Despite abuses at Abu Ghraib, the premeditated rape of a 14-year old girl in Mahmudya, Iraq, or the executions of Afghan civilians by the self-described “kill team” from the Stryker Brigade, the United States military remains unsullied. Allegations of serious abuses of prisoners’ rights during interrogations at Guantanamo have not led to the shutdown of the detention centre.

When a member of the Canadian forces assigned in Afghanistan is killed whether in action or by friendly fire, he or she is regarded as a hero. Circumstances of death are not that important; the fact that a soldier died with his or her boots on, is a celebration of heroism.

Why do we regard the military today with so much reverence?

William Deresiewicz, an essayist and critic, wrote in the New York Times that “saluting heroes is easy and absolves us from actual engagement.”

Deresiewicz wrote: “The new cult of the uniform began with a call to ‘support our troops’ during the Iraq War. The slogan played on a justified collective desire to avoid repeating the mistake of the Vietnam era, when hatred of the conflict spilled over into hostility toward the people who were fighting it.”

I doubt if we have the same collective response of adulation as a nation to our own Filipino troops, except for that single moment when the army disobeyed their Commander-in-Chief Ferdinand Marcos and refused to shoot at the peaceful demonstrators in EDSA. But this kind of courage by the army would never be repeated again. Instead, the troops would later on follow blindly the command of their disillusioned ranking officers in failed mutinies after another.

Personally, I have always had this antipathy to those in uniform, whether a cop or a soldier. When an uncle came home after fighting in Korea, he told us of the brutality of hostilities, some to the extent of hand-to-hand combat in the cold Korean front. How he survived the madness of the Korean War remained an enigma to him even after he left the service.

Early on during the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s, I began hating our soldiers who signed up for the Philcag expedition, whether they volunteered or were forced by their commanding officers to enlist to fight the communist forces in Vietnam. Later I would channel my anger toward men in uniform to riot police squads who broke up peaceful demonstrations against the government, even though I realized these cops were just being used as unwitting tools by their commanding officers. It was no wonder I would deliberately avoid joining military drills in my ROTC training days and instead volunteered to be responsible in the lowly task of arranging refreshments for the cadets during break time. If there was a military draft during my youth, I would certainly have dodged it.

My deep-seethed resentment of the military establishment and what it represented became more pronounced during the martial law period. Ferdinand Marcos used the army as his personal phalanx of gladiators to break the opposition and popular dissent. He placed generals in the civic service blurring the distinction between the government and the army. The practice of recycling retired generals by appointing them to government posts continued on even after Marcos had already been displaced. I once worked with a corporation run by a retired colonel and our relationship with each other had never been warm and friendly.

Militarization of the bureaucracy, when unchecked, could be a nightmare that exacts a heavy toll on people’s political and civil rights. Totalitarian governments have relied on the use of the military to silence opposition and dissent. Dictators are indifferent to democratic rights, and they use the military to sustain their regimes. Just look at the Philippines during the Marcos regime, or present-day Egypt and Tunisia, and Libya or Syria before the Arab Spring.
Click link
to view video: "Palparan accuses Melissa Roxas and Staur Ocampo."
Since Ferdinand Marcos entrenched the role of the military in government during the martial law years, generals and other high-ranking officers of the military establishment have since enjoyed the awe and fearful respect of their Commander-in Chief and his or her cabinet. The military needed to be pleased and rewarded for their efforts in fighting the local insurgency despite their abuse of basic human rights. No wonder the Philippine Human Rights Commission cleared General Jovito Palparan Jr., also known as “the Butcher,” of charges that he was responsible for a number of disappearances and extra-judicial killings of government critics during the Arroyo administration. Families of student activists, workers and journalists who have either disappeared or killed continue to pressure the government to investigate and prosecute the military for their complicity but to no avail.

How then can one show respect for this kind of military?

These are people in uniform whom we pay their salaries for their services and we expect them to be accountable to the people for any abuses they commit. But who is above the military nowadays? Marcos has placed them in an unimpeachable position almost beyond the reach of the law and every president elected to run the government must ensure the military is behind his or her administration if it cares to survive.

Has there been a general or high-ranking officer of the military prosecuted for abuses? Nada. Some of them are now in Congress like retired General Palparan who represents the dubious Bantay party-list, a political party supposed to speak for thousands of Filipinos employed as security guards.

Panfilo "Ping" Lacson is also back in his Senate post after running as a fugitive from the law when implicated in the murder of a Filipino publicist. Lacson was former Director-General of the Philippine National Police and was also linked to the killing of 11 members of Kuratong Baleleng in Quezon City. Kuratong Baleleng is an organized crime syndicate in the Philippines that once was an anti-communist vigilante group.

At the local levels of government, the military is further deeply entrenched that provincial governors and municipal mayors are beholden to them. There is a shadow government behind the civilian political structure and the military seems obviously in control. Who would need a coup d’├ętat when the government already appears under de facto control of the military?

Filipinos have never spoken so highly of those who serve in the military, unlike here in America where we consider the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as heroes. We never question whether their mission is a just one, even if the wars they are fighting are not the right wars.
Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photo courtesy of ronaldibay. Click link below to view "Martial Law
victims: ex-President Marcos is no place to be among heroes."
In a similar vein, we abhor the mere notion that Ferdinand Marcos deserves to be buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for Heroes) for his “heroic” exploits as a soldier during the Second World War, for two reasons: one, his military record is dubious, and two, his record as president of the Republic is a disgrace to everything that a hero stands for.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seeking a compromise in the Spratlys

During the Q&A at a forum on the Spratlys dispute in Toronto recently, a Filipino diplomat and former Consul General of the Philippine consulate in Toronto brought up the idea of a “sharing agreement” between the competing states as a possible solution to the current impasse in the South China Sea. Stressing that such agreement was within the realm of possibility, the diplomat referred to the example of the Ruhr Agreement which was adopted after the end of the Second World War in order to control the coal and steel industry in the Ruhr Area in West Germany.

The diplomat, however, failed to mention that the agreement was reached by the Allied powers as a condition for permitting the West Germans in establishing the Federal Republic of Germany. The agreement was signed by the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Benelux countries.
Sculpture depicting hard life of coal miners in the Ruhr valley.
Photo  courtesy of silwittmann.
At the time, France was seriously concerned with keeping Germany weak and restricting its civilian industries of military potential. France wanted to place the coal-rich Ruhr area and the Rhineland under French control, or at a minimum, to internationalize them, that is, to subject the German coal and steel industry to an international authority led by the Allied powers.

The Ruhr valley became the centre of the German economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s because of the heavy demand for coal and steel. After 1973, however, Germany suffered from the global economic crisis with its soaring oil prices and persistent high unemployment, and the Ruhr region was the hardest hit. German coal became no longer competitive and the Ruhr steel industry went into sharp decline. The coal mines and hot metal furnaces that transformed the region into Europe's industrial engine a century ago have long since shut down, destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs.

I was struck by the diplomat’s comparison of the current stalemate in the Spratlys with a totally different Germany after it was defeated by the Allies during the Second World War. Finding no possible connection between the two, the diplomat perhaps was simply being tactful in offering a negotiated solution to the problem. In any case, his notion of a “shared agreement” is just right in the neighbourhood of possible options for settling the Spratlys dispute.

The complexities of overlapping claims and the Spratlys dispute’s long history are making the determination of the sovereignty question extremely difficult. Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows states to choose whatever means they wish to resolve their disputes, China and Vietnam appear not interested in bringing up the dispute to arbitration, presumably for fear of an unfavourable outcome to their claims. This led one observer to describe the current situation in the Spratlys as one of “leaking status quo” or an unstable “do nothing” approach.

But the current impasse is not desirable for all the competing states. By steadfastly insisting on their territorial sovereignty claims, claimant states are holding up the enormous potential that could be derived from exploration and exploitation of the natural wealth of Spratlys and its seabed and waters around it.

That is why the Timor Sea Treaty, which was the most recent example of a joint collaboration between two competing sovereignty claims over the resources of a continental shelf, is the closest model of conflict resolution that comes to mind.

The joint petroleum exploration of the Timor Sea by Australia and East Timor allows both countries to benefit from the resources of their continental shelf without determining issues of sovereignty and maritime boundaries. Both countries are bound by their treaty to refrain from asserting their claims to rights, jurisdiction or maritime boundaries, in relation to the other, for 50 years. That is a long time, and who knows after all the oil is gone, if either country would still be interested in pursuing their sovereignty claim.
Sunset at Timor Sea. Photo courtesy of Pepiloo.
A proposal was already made to establish a Spratly Resource Development Authority which could probably ease the pressures of conflicting sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Such a cooperative arrangement could pool the financial resources of all the claimants into a joint effort to develop the area’s natural resources within a politically stable and demilitarized environment. There will be no more war of words or stoking fears that China might use its military power to impose itself on the region. Allies of the United States would also stop abetting and encouraging the U.S. government to keep its military presence in the South China Sea to counterbalance the threat of China’s rising hegemony.

In other words, the Spratlys situation should be turned into an opportunity for unity among the claimant states, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a whole—instead of division, threats of military confrontation, or the emergence of a new cold war.

So, the diplomat who said that a “shared agreement” like that of the Ruhr Valley could be right after all, although that arrangement was conceived for an entirely different purpose and under contrasting circumstances.

Compromise, as U.S. President Obama has asked his opponents in Congress to consider in trying to reach a middle ground on their policy differences, has surprisingly become the new buzzword in American politics, although it is as old as the U.S. Congress itself. Perhaps, it is also about time that each claimant state in the South China Sea consider making a compromise for the benefit of the region as a whole.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ideology of self-interest

According to the authors of a recent article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science, the notion of social class is very much relevant to the current debates on public policy.

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist and social scientist, and one of the co-authors of the article, observes that social class plays a very significant role in America’s ongoing philosophical battle over the economy, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults. Keltner says that the great divide of opinions between the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”

Dominoes of default. Photo courtesy of Third Way. Click link below to view  video: Opening
Tease (of From People Like Us):

“The rich are really different, and not in a good way,” Keltner says.

Keltner and his co-authors, Michael W. Kraus and Paul K. Piff—all three are from the University of California—have based their observations on twelve separate studies they conducted to measure empathy, social behaviour and work compassion. In every study they conducted, it was the same conclusion they gathered.

According to the study, rich people are more likely to think about themselves. Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish. On the other side, Keltner says that “lower class people just show more empathy, more pro-social behaviour, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

Keltner also implies that if we are attempting to restructure society in the hope that rich people will help those less fortunate, then we are wrong. “The idea of noblesse oblige or trickle-down economics, or certain versions of it, is bull,” Keltner says. According to Keltner, “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’—this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society—is improbable, psychologically.”

Aren’t the tax cuts for the wealthy during the Bush administration and extended by President Barack Obama predicated on the assumption that the rich will invest more and create jobs?

Instead, the U.S. economy flounders and the unemployment rate keeps rising. Worse, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives kept hammering Obama to further reduce the deficit and cut entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid which in the long run will only hurt those who have less.

But in reality, altruism is not exactly a rich person’s strong suit. As Ayn Rand, hero to the followers of the Tea Party, has said: “It is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

It is the American Dream to rise from below, from a life of poverty to a life of comfort. It might as well be for every poor immigrant to dream to rise in class, which is why so many Third World immigrants are leaving in search of better lives in the West.

But many studies have found that as people move up in their social class, they become less empathetic. As people accumulate wealth, they lose the urge to connect and be closer to others.

Whether this is the kind of culture that rising in social class brings about is somewhat very disturbing. Does moving up in life generally mean abandoning your passion for helping others who have less in life?

Here’s a group of professional Filipinos in Toronto, by way of an example. They are Filipino Canadians, mostly successful in their new lives as immigrants, who celebrate summer by holding a picnic and barbecue cooking contest. Each contestant is asked to use his or her own barbecue recipe and whoever grills the best-liked barbecue would be declared the year’s Champion Chef. There would be plenty of food for everyone—beef, chicken, pork, plus fresh fruits and tables-full of Philippine dishes.

Not that this is an indictment against summer barbecues or even about gluttony. Except that the group’s invitation came at a time after I had just read the stories of famine in Somalia and in other parts of the Horn of Africa. The emaciated and grim faces of thin children who had not eaten for days were flashed on television during the evening news and kept staring onto the viewer the whole time. The horrifying images stayed with me many hours afterwards and then I began to wonder … what if we sent the picnic’s bounty of food to these hungry children? Then at least we’d feel less guilty and be able to help erase hunger even for a fleeting moment.
Famine in Somalia, United Nations Photo, August 7, 2011. Click link below to view, "Somali famine refugees moved
 to new camp," Reuters video. 
Famine, of course, will not be solved or wiped out by just sending food to the hungry. But showing that we were moved by the appalling images of hungry people, who were not responsible for their condition in the first place, could be a positive little step towards alleviating hunger and famine. Empathy becomes even more significant at a time when we have so much to eat and to share while others in many parts of the world starve.

The same goes for our community’s penchant for celebrating pageantry—whether through dancing or beauty contests, even the parading of lechons (roast pigs) in public, when many of our countrymen back home are struggling to put food on their tables.

In Metro Manila, for instance, the number of urban poor is staggering. Urban poverty has worsened while the Aquino government’s only accomplishment after a year in office is getting rid of “wang-wang,” or horn-blasters in city streets. The country is beset with a flawed agrarian reform program that’s causing huge urban migration which both local and national governments have no capacity to deal with.

The Aquino government has no effective answer to the growing exodus of families from the rural areas and the concomitant rise in unemployment it brings. Yet, the government continues to rely on its Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program or payout to the poor which has proven to be ineffective and prone to corruption.
A sewer runs through it. Photo by Omsel. Click link below to view Bulatlat video:
The CCT scheme is not a solution to poverty. What the poor need are long-term poverty alleviation measures such as job creation and provision of basic social services.

Even our leaders in government, who have all moved up in social class just like our successful Filipino immigrants here in Toronto, have shown neither empathy nor compassion for the disaffected.

The sad reality is not everyone will be able to rise in the ladder of life.

In fact, even if some do join those in the middle (20 per cent) and upper classes (one per cent) of our society, they will likely assimilate the profligate spending habits and excesses of the rich. Starting with President P-Noy and his much-vaunted purchase of a Porsche to the mega-mansions of scions from this privileged class—all have shown an absence of awareness of the bigger society around them, a paucity of benevolence and compassion for millions of our poor compatriots still living in want—in hovels without water, without the basic necessities to live a human existence.

The ability to rise above one’s class is everyone’s great dream. But when those in the upper echelons of society or those in the so-called higher social class flaunt their wealth and decadent ways without as much a thought as to how their actions will affect the many poor, we can witness another London-in-the-making in our midst. Yes, unrest from the margins of society will build up sooner than we dare to dream to rise above our class origins.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Read between the lines

There are those who blame the laziness and weakness of the masses as one reason why we have so many demagogues in our midst. They say people relish a firm leader, a benevolent dictator. The popular belief is that the iron resolve of such type of leader would help create a greater and better society, or on the other hand, that it would help protect its demise.

This is not only without basis in fact or history but also untrue. When a cabal controls the media and has the backing of the economic elite, it is easier to twist popular support in their favour. The poor masses, bereft of economic power and politically marginalized, could undoubtedly fall for deceit and promises of a better tomorrow.

That’s how Germany fell for Hitler, or Chile and Argentina for Pinochet and Peron. Ferdinand Marcos used his mastery of guile and glib to subdue an entire nation into submission to his goals of a “New Society.”
Is Philippine President Benigno Aquino III under siege? Photo courtesy of Photo
 of the Week (IRRI). Please click link below to view interview with Butuan Bishop
 Juan de Dios Pueblos:
According to a contemporary Filipino historian, President Noynoy Aquino’s “daang matuwid” (straight path) could very well be his generation’s battle cry for social change as in the old “Bagong Lipunan” (New Society) of the Marcos era. The comparison may sound ominous but could bear some kernel of truth.

The recent state-of-the-nation address by President Aquino demonstrates how eloquent speech can mask the hollowness of his accomplishments after a year in office. This is, by the way, the hallmark of a demagogue. If he continues this way in addressing or leading the Filipino people, Noynoy Aquino might be on the straight path toward building his vision of society based on his moral values, without delivering the economic and social benefits of his so-called agenda for change.

But Noynoy Aquino should be very afraid of the masses when they finally get angry and fed up with false promises and lofty but empty rhetoric. It wasn’t that long ago when the EDSA People Power Revolution helped his mother topple the despotic Marcos regime. The autumn revolution in the streets of Eastern Europe brought down the powerful Soviet Union and its satellite block. The same phenomenon is happening right now in the Arab Spring where leaders like Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were deposed after long years of dictatorship, all because of the intense civil resistance of the masses. Perhaps Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are the next ones to fall.

One thing is certain. History has shown that the masses are not forever asleep.

Only last July 3, Colonel Generoso Mariano, the deputy commander of the Philippines Naval Reserve Command, published a video on Facebook and YouTube calling for the overthrow of the government of President Benigno Aquino III. In an overt defiance of his Commander-in-Chief, Mariano said that the “Aquino government is not doing anything to keep poor people from going hungry and dying.”
A contingent of Philippine marines marching at the navy headquarters in Manila.
Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse. Please click link below to view video of  
Col. Generoso V. Mariano calling for the ouster of President Noynoy Aquino:
According to Mariano, when the government has no intention to save the plight of the greater majority of the people from their suffering, “it is the right of every Filipino, including soldiers, to replace the government.”

Brave and daring words from one of Noynoy Aquino’s foot soldiers. President Aquino should not forget that his own mother’s term as president of the country was beset by a series of failed military coups. Col. Mariano himself was involved in those coups and also imprisoned for his participation.

This was not the first time a call has been made for Aquino’s ouster.

Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos also made a similar call during a radio interview where he asked President Aquino to step down because he is “not worthy” to lead the country. “Aquino does not plan…he does not make his own decisions and just lets his friends decide on how to run the government,” the prelate added.

The bishop also revealed during the interview that there are similar groups preparing to depose Aquino from Malacanang because they believe that Aquino was not doing his job as president. There were reports that the Solidarity for Sovereignty (S4) had also been active in trying to unseat Aquino, the same group that had been involved in similar efforts to oust former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.

What is the Aquino government’s reaction to all these campaigns to apparently destabilize his government?

Col. Mariano was immediately confined to military quarters and a formal investigation was ordered that could lead to a court martial. The Aquino administration dismissed Mariano’s allegations in his video and claimed that the marine officer used to work closely with former President Gloria Arroyo, who is now facing several graft and corruption charges.

Butuan Bishop de Dios was similarly discredited by the Noynoy Aquino’s inner circle as a disgruntled former ally of then President Arroyo and was one of the recipients in the Pajero scandal where church officials were alleged to have received vehicles from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) for their own personal use.

It appears that the present dispensation under Noynoy Aquino has found the magical formula to stem criticism of the government and efforts by disgruntled members of the military to launch a counterproductive coup. Simply put the blame on the previous administration for its own shortcomings and failures. After all, it is the past government that is on trial for massive graft and corruption. By exposing critics or would-be putsch conspirators as being tainted and drenched in the past government’s scandalous record of graft and corruption, Aquino and his allies are now able to quickly dispatch any criticism of government as being motivated by an axe to grind or merely sour grapes.

This cavalier attitude of the government could have serious consequences. Criticisms from now on would just be ignored. What if there was a strain of truth in this jeremiad against the government? This is sounding more and more like a government that is incapable of making mistakes, or a government that does not want to be criticized. When a government starts to think this way, its pushes itself toward the dangerous precipice of complacency—then totalitarianism becomes a temptation, when everything seems perfect for a leader to rule by decree and iron hand.

Just listen or read between the lines these moral exhortations from the august lips of President Aquino in his state of the nation address.

“And to those who may resist the change we are trying to bring about, this I say to you: I know what I must do, and my personal interests are nothing when compared to the interests of the nation. There are many of us who want what is right for this country; and there are more of us than you. To those of you who would turn back the tide of reform: you will not succeed.”

Words from someone imbued with a messianic complex. Clearly a man set out on a mission to manipulate the public’s passion to gain allegiance and stay in power.

Let it be told: Self-righteous sermons that stir popular passions and prejudices are not a miracle drug that can transform society and deliver our people from the pangs of poverty and injustice. Only a demagogic leader believes this is possible.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Caregivers’ champion–but not for long

Before November 1 of each year, Canada’s Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is required by law to submit a report in Parliament identifying the appropriate level of immigration for the following year and the most suitable mix between economic, family class and protected persons.

The current mix stands as follows: 60 per cent come in under the economic class, 26 per cent in the family class, and 14 per cent as protected persons (refugees and others who come in for humanitarian and compassionate reasons.)
Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.Photo courtesy of No One is Illegal-Toronto.
Click the following link to view "Jason Kenney - the King of Multiculturalism,"
A total of 18 objectives are listed in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) which serves as the guiding framework for Canada’s immigration program. In a briefing, the current department responsible for Canada’s immigration program has highlighted the following three objectives as the most important pillars of its program:

  •  to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy, in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions in Canada;  
  •  to see that families are reunited; and
  •  to fulfill Canada’s international legal obligations with respect to refugees and affirm Canada’s commitment to international efforts to provide assistance to those in need of resettlement.

Every Canadian would therefore feel proud to think that Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is doing his job well when he announced last July 12, 2011 that there would be public consultations on immigration levels and mix. Focusing on the three most important pillars of the immigration program also gives high hopes that the system which has been dysfunctional for some years would finally be overhauled for the better. That much needed reform is on the way, especially now that the Conservative government has the majority in Parliament to have its sway.

Government turnabout

But having political capital can easily make a government act arrogantly. The minute it announces public consultations about Canada’s immigration program, it instantly unmasks itself by revealing its ugly head. Instead of soliciting ideas on immigration reform, the Minister is asking us to help the government round up and deport suspected war criminals and illegal migrants. They even bought a whole newspaper page ad to display the mug shots of 30 suspected war criminals living in Canada.

To cap it all, Minister Kenney announced that the government would strip 1,800 people of their Canadian citizenship, which he said was obtained fraudulently. “There are some around the world who would seek to abuse Canada’s openness and who would seek to devalue Canadian citizenship. I’m here to tell those people that Canadian citizenship is not for sale,” Kenny put it quite bluntly.

Instead of enforcing our laws, Kenny would rather encourage vigilantism. Hunting down these alleged fraudsters, most of whom live abroad, would sidetrack Kenney’s more important objective of reforming a broken system. In addition, his emphasis on rooting out illegals and war criminals would take away public funds which his department can easily use to implement much-needed reforms such as expediting processing of applications that have been backlogged to about seven years of waiting time.
Boat full of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy of controlarms.
Click link
to view "Jason Kenny confirmed 1,8000 new Canadians could be stripped of
of their fraudulent citizenship."
After launching his consultations in Calgary, news broke out that a ship carrying Tamils was intercepted in Indonesia and appeared to be headed for Canada. “We are not going to be a doormat for dangerous crime of people smuggling,” Kenney immediately made his quick reaction loud and clear.

What has happened to Canada’s obligation to provide assistance to those in need of resettlement? There could be genuine refugees in that boatload of Tamils, yet Kenney has already prejudged that they’re not wanted in Canada

Sidestepping issues

Kenney’s sudden fear and loathing of fraudsters, calling them “citizens of convenience,” and war criminals sends a wrong message to the world that Canada is a haven for cheaters and con artists. He’s portraying a wrong image of new Canadians, the overwhelming majority of whom respect the law, work hard, pay their taxes and contribute in making our economy strong and sound.

The message this government wants us to hear is clear and unmistakable. They are more interested in cracking down and punishing alleged illegals in this country than building the kind of immigration system founded on the three most important pillars of our immigration program as enumerated in the IRPA.

Kenney appears to be sidestepping the more important issues that have plagued Canada’s immigration system for years. Newly-settled permanent residents, for instance, want to know why it takes seven years to bring their parents in Canada. Employers also want to know when and how soon they can get the skilled labour they need.

Professional immigrants, whom Canada has enticed to come over on the basis of their high education and set of skills are wondering when their credentials will be recognized so they can get out of menial jobs they are forced to take in order to survive. Should pathways to permanent residence be considered for other temporary foreign workers? The list goes on and on, and urgency is of the essence.

During the last federal elections, Minister Kenney was regarded as a champion of immigrant rights. Caregivers in Canada have hailed him as their hero. Now that his Conservative party has won a big majority in Parliament, Kenney appears to be casting a different image—that of an enforcer who is interested more in rounding up and deporting illegals in Canada.

Caregivers Program faces possible setbacks

In a backgrounder it published regarding stakeholder consultations on immigration levels and mix just before the planned cross-country consultations, Canada Immigration has made two significant findings about the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) which could have serious implications to those thinking of applying to come to Canada under the program.

First, the backgrounder noted that many live-in caregivers leave the profession once they become permanent residents. This implies that some drastic changes may be needed if there is a sustained need for such employment, which includes the reality that if there are other choices, those who come under the program will not freely engage in “live-in” work arrangements. Either those who come in under the LCP may lose their pathway to permanent residence and be doomed to work as temporary workers for all their lives or the program be cancelled since the program appears to Canada Immigration as a floodgate for permanent residents who may not necessarily qualify if they apply under this category in the first place.
Filipino caregivers in Canada. Photo courtesy of bayan_canada. Click the
following link to view
"Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney Thanks Filipino Caregivers." 
Second, they have also inferred that the LCP could be a hidden form of family reunification. In analyzing some LCP applications, they found that as many as 40 per cent come to work for relatives in Canada. This raises the question whether such employment would be available for non-family members, an implication that hiring caregivers who are family relatives may be disallowed in the future. There are already reports that many qualified first-time LCP applications in Manila are being turned down in favour of those caregivers already employed overseas such as those in Hongkong, Europe or the Middle East.

If Minister Jason Kenney wants to keep his cape as the caregivers’ champion, particularly to Filipino caregivers, he needs to clarify his department’s findings and their implications to the present LCP. The new procedural rules for hiring of temporary foreign workers that Canada Immigration started implementing last April 2011 have already caused great anxiety among many caregivers in particular. These new findings that alluded some doubts on the effectiveness of the LCP would surely create even more negative repercussions.

The once-hero to Filipino caregivers may have already forgotten those who have supported him during the last federal elections. Whether this is due to political arrogance after securing a Conservative majority in Parliament, Kenney’s new preoccupation with hunting down fraudsters and illegals not only reveals his short memory but perhaps the true character of the present Conservative government.