By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

PH VISIT. Canada Minister Ahmed Hussen (right) and National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan pose for a photo during Hussen’s official visit to the Philippines on Thursday (Jan. 11, 2024). The two officials discussed cooperation in sustainable development, including in the areas of climate action, disaster resilience, agriculture, and health. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Embassy in Manila)

MANILA – Canada is augmenting its official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippines as it fully implements its Indo-Pacific Strategy, its visiting development minister bared Thursday night.

During his official visit to the Philippines, Canada’s Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen announced that Ottawa has earmarked 15 million Canadian dollars, or approximately PHP627 million in new investments to improve climate adaptation and expand access to health services in the Philippines.

Hussen said the approved funding is expected to “get underway in 2024.”

Of the total, Canada will provide 8 million Canadian dollars over five years in grant financing to build the resilience of vulnerable communities by supporting nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and coastal wetlands restoration for climate adaptation.

The project targets six regions across the country representing key biodiversity or protected areas.

On health services, Canada will provide 7 million Canadian dollars over six years in grant financing to help the country implement its Universal Health Care Act and strengthen the capacity of local governments.

The project, Hussen said, would target vulnerable populations, including women and girls and indigenous people, in four geographically isolated and disaster-prone provinces.

“Canadian overseas development assistance is meant to be deployed in the Philippines in a manner that compliments, supplements, and supports Philippine national priorities,” he told reporters in a media roundtable in Makati City.

“As part of our Indo-Pacific strategy, which is Canada’s way to focus in this region in terms of diplomacy, trade and investment, and development, the Philippines is central to that strategy.”

Canada’s annual ODA to the Philippines is valued at 24 million Canadian dollars to 25 million Canadian dollars and focuses on peace and security, inclusive economic growth, and health, among others.

Hussen said Ottawa also wants to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Manila to further align its ODA “more deliberately” with the country’s development priorities.

Apart from health and climate adaptation, the concluded MOU will enhance Canadian support in areas of renewable energy and food security, among others.

Canada said the signing of the MOU would also ensure policy alignment and “complementarity” between the Philippine needs and the Canadian supply side.

As development ties with Manila grow, Hussen highlighted the potential for more investments to come in from its private sector.

“If we’re talking about more resources, it’s not just us (Canadian government) picking up our game and increasing resources through the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” he said.

“We have the opportunity to leverage some of those additional dollars to also unlock private sector dollars from Canada and beyond to really deploy that in the Philippines. So, I’m quite excited about the opportunities.”

Hussen has met with Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga and National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.

‘Critical minerals’

In the same briefing, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines David Hartman said Ottawa is also keen to further develop cooperation in the area of critical minerals.

“The sad reality is we cannot have a green energy transition without critical minerals. So the candid reality is that the global community needs the Philippines,” he said.

Hartman noted that Canada could help the Philippines extract its minerals “responsibly, ethically, and in an environment and sustainable” manner.

“We’re also candidly conscious of the fact that the extractive industries has a storied past here, there’s a lot of sensitivities amongst indigenous communities and other populations,” he said.

“We believe that we can provide capacity building to the government of the Philippines to help create the social license for the Philippines to be able to capitalize on the mineral wealth that exists in this country.”

Canada and the Philippines are set to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations this 2024 with more high-level exchanges, including President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s possible visit to Canada in the latter part of the year.

“We hope by the autumn when we have the President visit Canada, to be in a position to announce other projects and initiatives this year,” Hartman said.

In 2023, Canada deployed its dark vessel detector to the Philippines, which the country could use for free in the next five years.

Canada and the Philippines are also expected to finally sign the MOU on defense cooperation in 2024 after concluding its final language last year. (PNA)