MANILA, JULY 2, 2007
(STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - Tonight on my TV talkshow, Straight from the Sky, I have as my guest for the third time, his Excellency Canadian Ambassador Peter Sutherland. Ambassador Sutherland first appeared on my TV show on Feb. 16, 2004 and then on Aug. 8, 2005 and tonight he makes his final appearance on my show as Canadian ambassador. I first met Ambassador Sutherland four years ago during a dinner hosted by the late Sir Max Soliven and we have been great friends since.

Ambassador Sutherland is the only foreign ambassador bar none who has developed a special relationship or affinity with Cebu’s media and glitterati… because he not only goes to Cebu during those high-profile and formal international conferences, but he also goes to Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga wearing short sleeves in order to lend Canada’s support for many worthy projects, like the Pearl 2 project where local basket weavers are taught to improve their quality to international standards, which eager Canadians would purchase. He has been helping a Third World country develop and grow economically, while at the same time promoting his own country!

With Ambassador Sutherland in Cebu last week, it was indeed Canada Week starting from June 27 with the Cebu Chef’s Canadian Cuisine Dinner, which was really a charity dinner to help the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF) Cebu’s version of the 911 emergency services. This sumptuous dinner was prepared by the great chefs in Cebu like Chef Luke Gagnon of Marco Polo Plaza Hotel, Chef Stefano Verrillo of Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa, Chef Martin Przewodnik of Alegre Beach Resort, Chef Anders Hallden of Waterfront Hotel & Casino, and Chef Trevor Stevens of Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort & Spa.

After the dinner, these chefs were auctioned off by emcee Bunny Pages to the highest bidder for a cause… where the winner got to have a free pick of his favorite chef who would provide a dinner for four in his hotel. My friends Dennis and Petite Garcia were the highest bidders at P40,000 and chose Gagnon to be their special chef. Of course, this event couldn’t have happened without the “Kitchen Club” with Butch de la Cruz and Irma Angeles under the Canadian Trade Commissioner Services whose creativity allowed me my first taste of that famous bison or buffalo meat which was served on June 27. That’s really a great way of promoting Canadian products to the Philippines. I’m sure you’ve tasted those Canadian oysters, which Ambassador Sutherland describes as “oysters on steroids” because they’re so huge and so tasty!

The following evening, the Arts Council of Cebu, in cooperation with the Canadian Embassy and Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Marco Polo Plaza, featured the Toronto Cantata Chorus for the benefit of the Asian Center for Couples and Families (ACCF) Cebu Chapter. Due to other engagements, I wasn’t able to attend this show. However, during the previous dinner, the Toronto Cantata Chorus came up with the Philippine National Anthem and the Canadian National Anthem “O Canada” and it was the best and most stirring Canadian anthem I have ever heard. Because Aileen Lee, daughter of Cebu’s honorary Canadian consul, the indefatigable Robert Lee, and his wife Anna, is also with the Toronto Cantata Chorus, they gave us a very beautiful rendition of that famous Cebuano song Usahay to the applause of the audience. By looking at the various faces of the 20-member Toronto Cantata Chorus, you can say that they truly represent what Canada is today… a nation of diverse cultures and languages… which the Philippines really is.

Sad to say, Ambassador Sutherland will soon be leaving his ambassadorial post in a couple of months and we will surely miss him. We can only hope that the other foreign ambassadors would follow his example… by getting out of their comfort zones in Metro Manila and seeing the real Philippines, which they can find in the Visayas and Mindanao. One thing I can say about Ambassador Peter Sutherland, because of his domestic travels and numerous projects within the country, he has truly developed a special bond of friendship between the people of the Philippines and the people of Canada.

For his parting words to his friends during the Canada Day dinner at the Marco Polo, Ambassador Sutherland said, “You can get us out of the Philippines, but you can never get the Philippines out of us!” Au revoir, my dear friend, Ambassador Sutherland, and if by any chance you wish to retire in Cebu, you and your family are always welcome here!

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The new senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, provincial board members and city and municipal councilors have already taken their respective oath to serve their communities and the country… we can only hope that they would now work on behalf of our people to speed up the delivery of basic services and map out strategies (if there were none before) to improve our country’s economy. While we are satisfied with a six percent plus growth, let me emphasize that we can really achieve higher growth if only we band together and make things work for us as a country.

With that in mind, let me point once more that distressing news headlined in The Philippine STAR last Saturday, “Corruption in gov’t remains high – poll,” because unless we lick this problem, it will always haunt us like a bad dream that won’t go away. Let me cite a simple example of how corruption in the government can affect the economy of this country.

I just learned that the Japan government has issued an “advisory” or a warning for its citizens not to visit the Philippines… not because of terrorism like what most foreign embassies do, but because of extortion by Customs and immigration personnel assigned in Philippine airports. If you ask me, this Japanese advisory is an embarrassment to the Philippines because it damages our growing tourism industry.

I hope that the President and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano can act on this soon. Clearly, those small time “extortion” activities happening in our international airports have reached the Japanese Foreign Affairs Office and they have acted accordingly. I know that this has been happening in our airports and yes, these criminal activities haven’t stopped. So the question is, when will the extortion of foreign nationals in our airports be stopped?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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