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New Filipino Envoy Secretly Longed to Return to Canada

By Brian Adeba      
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Thirty two years ago, José Brillantes was posted to Canada as labour attaché at the Embassy of the Philippines. He remembers Ottawa as a small town that went to bed early in the evening.

"By 5:30 p.m., the downtown would be almost empty and the airport was a small one building thing," he says.

"But now, the city is vibrant and full of life."

Mr. Brillantes, who took over the duties of the Philippines' Ambassador to Canada on Dec. 13, also remembers that official bilingualism was still in its infancy. "Now you can see it is working," he says. Mr. Brillantes replaced Ambassador Francisco Benedicto, who returned home this summer.

A public servant for most of his life, Mr. Brillantes says he has always harboured a desire to return to Ottawa, but thought it would be impolite to suggest this to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. When he was asked to write down the three countries he would like to be posted to, he politely declined to mention Canada.

"But I think they knew I would love to come back here," says Mr. Brillantes, who has two adult sons who live and work in Canada.

Before being appointed ambassador, Mr. Brillantes was deputy minister of foreign affairs in charge of migrant workers. He has also served as under secretary of labour affairs in the Philippines Secretariat of Labour. On the diplomatic front, Mr. Brillantes has worked for 32 years in various capacities in Germany, the U.S. and Malaysia, where he was ambassador from 1996 to 2002.

But Mr. Brillantes says his real passion is working with migrant workers from the Philippines, who number 8 million and work in many countries around the world. In the Middle East alone, there are an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers from the Philippines. Mr. Brillantes says he is passionate about their welfare and will continue to be involved in finding solutions to their problems. The Philippines has placed the protection of Filipinos working abroad among the top three pillars of its foreign policy. "This is not very common in the foreign policies of many countries," says Mr. Brillantes. The other two are political security and economic diplomacy.

On Dec. 8, in recognition of the many years working with migrant workers, he was elected member and vice-chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Member countries on this committee number only 34 countries and are mostly nations from which migrant workers originate. Receiving countries are still keeping their distance from this committee but Mr. Brillantes says the committee aims at increasing the number of signatories.

In Ottawa, Mr. Brillantes says he hopes to build on the cordial relations between Canada and the Philippines and improve cooperation on technical aspects.

Dispelling Myths, Aim of New Zim Envoy

Zimbabwe's new ambassador to Canada, Florence Zano Chideya, has a pretty clear idea of what she wants to achieve during her tenure in Ottawa. First, she hopes to clear what she calls the "misconceptions" about her country.

"For instance there was a story in Embassy about Zimbabwe's judiciary. There's an embassy here and it would have been good if you contacted the embassy to get our view," she says of the story that appeared in the Nov. 23 issue.

"The stroke of a pen can be damaging," she says, adding that she hopes to use her time here to promote constructive dialogue on Zimbabwe.

Ms. Chideya arrived Ottawa a month ago to replace Ambassador Gabriel Machinga. She presented her credentials to Governor General Michaëlle Jean on Dec. 13.

Ms. Chideya was first exposed to the diplomatic life in 1993 when her husband was appointed ambassador to the Nordic countries, based in Sweden. Her first impression of diplomatic life was that it was scary. "But it depends on your level of exposure," she adds quickly.

Before joining her husband in the diplomatic service, Ms. Chideya was a senior public servant in the Ministry of Industry and Technology, a position that required extensive travel around the world. She says this prepared her for diplomatic life.

While in Sweden, she was elected president of the diplomatic club, a role she served in for two years in the early 1990s. The exciting thing she remembers about this role was leading people of distinguished backgrounds from various countries.

"At the end of the day, you realize that people are people despite their backgrounds," she says.

Later when her husband was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1993-98, Ms. Chideya was elected chair of the Commonwealth Countries League in London and also president of the association of spouses of heads of missions in the UK.

In 1999, her family moved back to Zimbabwe where Ms. Chideya got involved with several charities. Actively involved in philanthropy, Ms. Chideya is also a lifelong member of the International Federation of the Red Cross. Before joining Zimbabwe's public service in 1983, Ms. Chideya was a political activist. She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in business management in 1976. Five years earlier, she trained as a nurse in the UK.

Right now she says she is trying to get aquatinted with things Canadian and is closely watching the run-up to the elections on Jan. 23.

"I am interested in the frankness [of the leaders] but I am wondering what the change will be underneath it."

She also hopes to boost trade ties between Zimbabwe and Canada, especially in the mining sector. Both countries have trade relations in the medical sector, crafts and chemicals.


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