Report – By Ana Marie Pamintuan of The Philippine Star
On a dairy farm in New Zealand’s picturesque Canterbury region, Jonathan Madera brightens up at the sight of a Filipino visitor, switches off the control for cattle milking, and rushes to get his camera for a souvenir shot with a fellow Pinoy.
Madera, a 46-year-old Ilonggo who worked for 10 years in a cattle fattening farm in Pampanga before coming to New Zealand, is one of only about 5000 Filipinos working in cattle farms in New Zealand, most of them in the sparsely populated southern region.
Their numbers are growing rapidly, but it can be a lonely existence.
President Aquino, addressing the Filipino community upon his arrival in Auckland yesterday, said he was working to make the Philippines a better place so that citizens will feel no need to leave their own country for better livelihood opportunities overseas.
The effort, the President said in an extemporaneous speech delivered almost entirely in Filipino, included going after those so brazen in their corruption they not only wanted to milk the cow but also use the bone for bulalo or bone marrow soup: “Ginagatasan mo na, gusto pang gawing bulalo.”
He said the nation must start making the corrupt answer for their crimes so that there would be no role models for other crooks to follow.
The President also shared a text joke about the corrupt who liked tooling around in fast, sleek luxury vehicles, but become wheelchair-bound when trying to escape – “Pero pagka ginustong tumakas, ang ginagamit, wheelchair.”
It was seen as an allusion to his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who checked into a hospital shortly after she was ordered arrested for another case of plunder, an offence without bail. She remains confined and has sought “hospital arrest.”
While Aquino did not mention names, his speech was peppered with references to anomalies imputed to the Arroyo administration.
And he urged the crowd to support his reform agenda by voting in 2013 for candidates with a track record for competence, who could do right, and deliver on campaign promises.
Articulate and self-assured candidates could simply be shameless, he said, while the shy ones may be more competent.
“It’s in your hands,” he told the crowd, urging them not to simply pick candidates for their singing or dancing prowess.
Aquino rattled off some of the accomplishments of his administration in the past two-and-a-half years, and what he hoped to achieve by the end of his term.
About 36,000 Filipinos live in New Zealand, many of them nurses, with the majority living in Auckland, according to Philippine Ambassador Virginia Benavidez.
A new phenomenon is the increasing number of Filipinos working in farms in the South Island.
The President recalled that when he was a congressman, a group of about 80 nursing students visited him. When he asked how many of the 80 planned to work in the Philippines, all but two said they wanted to go abroad.
He lamented this, noting that 40 percent of Filipinos would die without ever seeing a health professional.
“The greatest natural resource we have is our people,” he said.
But he said he could not blame the students for wanting to leave a country where they could not see progress, where the leaders were preoccupied with hanging on to power.
All this, he said, was changing under his watch.
“Paano noon at paano ngayon (What was it like before and what is it like today)?” he urged the people to ask.
Aquino also lamented the deterioration in the quality of education and competitiveness. In his visits to Southeast Asian countries, he was told that their government ministers studied agriculture in the Philippines. Now these countries were exporting rice to the Philippines, he lamented.
Filipinos were the ones who taught, but failed to learn, he sighed: “Medyo mabigat sa kalooban na tayo ang nagturo, tayo ang di natuto.”
Among the accomplishments he cited were the continuing gains in the stock market and the country’s economic growth: 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2012 and 5.9 percent in the second. Considering global economic woes, he said the figures were impressive.
He said a ratio of one textbook per student has been achieved, more classrooms have been constructed, health coverage has been expanded, and repayment terms improved for the country’s massive debt. Next year, he reiterated, the country will be an exporter of rice.
If there is an opportunity for change, Aquino told the audience, why not grab it? If he did not, he said he could not face the mirror and tell himself he did right. If he shirked the challenge of changing the status quo, he said, would he be a son of Ninoy and Corazon Aquino – “anak ba ako ng mga magulang ko?… Dapat yata magpalit na ako ng pangalan (Maybe I should change my name).”
The President flew in on a chartered Philippine Airlines flight from Manila, arriving in Auckland before noon for a two-day state visit. He was welcomed by New Zealand Ambassador to Manila Reuben Levermore and Customs Commissioner Maurice Williamson.
Accompanying Aquino are Cabinet members led by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and a delegation of about 60 businessmen who are paying their way.
Trade Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio said the businessmen joined the delegation “to give moral support to the President and show the high level of business confidence” in the administration.
The President will today attend a forum between Philippine and New Zealand businessmen. Agreements are expected to be signed on technological cooperation in geothermal development, fish supply, and possibly business process outsourcing.
The President travels to the capital Wellington today for a bilateral meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office chief Rick Carandang said Aquino’s trip would enhance people-to-people exchanges between the Philippines and New Zealand.
“In broad strokes we will provide opportunities for Filipinos to come here, get to know the country, New Zealanders to go to the Philippines and also to get to know the country,” Carandang said. “We expect people-to-people exchanges to boost tourism both ways.”
He also said Aquino hopes to promote a more robust trade between the Philippines and New Zealand in a meeting with the country’s business community.
“They are quite surprised to learn, for example, that the Philippines is probably the third or fourth largest market for their milk products. So we have a very thriving economic relationship with New Zealand, but the problem is people here are not very aware of these economic links,” he said.
In 2011, the Philippines’ trade deficit with New Zealand increased by $103.26 million from $376.11 million in 2010 to $479.37 million.
The value of Philippine imports from New Zealand rose from $357.37 million in 2007 to $524.33 million in 2011. Most of these products are food items, mainly dairy product, malt extracts, frozen mackerel and meat.
In contrast, the value of Philippine exports to New Zealand declined from $114.15 million in 2007 to $44.86 million in 2011. Most of the exports are food products such as fruits (mostly bananas) and motor vehicle parts.
But Philippine exports posted an increase of five percent from January to February 2012, compared with the same period last year.
The Philippines is New Zealand’s 13th largest export market.
Ana Marie Pamintuan is editor-in-chief of The Philippine Star.