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MANILA, Philippines – Cheers and shouts erupted from the International Media Center in Manila on Thursday, November 19, as the Philippines wrapped up a year-long chairmanship of a key regional meeting.
But the enthusiastic response at the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit wasn't directed towards the pacts and partnerships forged between heads of economies during days of talking trade and regional cooperation, as well as matters of bilateral concern.
Instead, it was focused on one specific world leader: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the man who has recently taken Philippine social media by storm.
Trudeau arrived at the media center past 6 pm for a press conference, held shortly after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivered his closing remarks as APEC chair.
Just minutes after Aquino left the stage, dozens of volunteers tapped for the event headed out in droves towards Briefing Room 1, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prime minister tagged as an "APEC hottie" by netizens.
The newly-elected Canadian leader spoke to media after Aquino's speech, where he was asked about his experience at his first APEC summit, Canada's ties with other countries, and – inevitably – his celebrity status among starstruck Filipinos.
Ushers, event volunteers, and some members of the media lined the hallway in anticipation of Trudeau's arrival, their smartphones and cameras held aloft to get a quick photo and video of the popular Canadian leader.
Trudeau, however, walked briskly to the briefing room, leaving the predominantly female crowd with not much choice but to head to the lounge where the press conference was being streamed live.
The giant wall showing Trudeau's image in the background became a popular spot for selfies.
Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler
During the press conference, Trudeau was asked if he was aware that he was now the social media darling of Filipino netizens, who rank him alongside Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The Canadian leader took the question in stride, choosing to reply by recalling how he learned to "separate people's perceptions" during the years he grew up in the public eye.
The 43-year-old son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said he grew up learning how to take both the praise and criticism projected onto him by people who either supported or criticized his father.
"What I also had to learn is that there were a lot of people who liked my father and liked me for reasons entirely unrelated to who I actually was, and I had to learn to set aside positive impressions that weren’t grounded in reality," he said.
He added: "So, throughout my life, I have focused on what I have to do and the substance of what I put forward, and that has left me both grounded and able to focus regardless of perceptions or attentions to things external."
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau leaves IMC to cheers and shouts from a mostly female crowd. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/7Yf9czcQzx — Katerina Francisco (@kaifrancisco) November 19, 2015
Trudeau's celebrity reception in the Philippines was just one of the colorful side events in the regional summit, where global leaders discussed trade cooperation and innovations for regional growth.
But the excitement and hype surrounding the Canadian leader's visit didn't spare him from more serious questions, particularly the pressing issue on Canada's illegal garbage dumped in the Philippines.
Trudeau made no commitments to environmental groups' demands for his country to take back the tons of trash already posing health risks to Filipinos.
But he said that he has already been "made aware of the situation" and that a "Canadian solution" was already being developed.
"At the same time, I know that this has exposed a problem that needs fixing within our own legislation that we’re going to lean into and make sure happens," he added.
Asked about his impressions of his short stay in the Philippines, Trudeau said the two countries possess "strong ties," thanks in part to over 700,000 Canadians of Filipino origin.
"I have absolutely adored my stay in the Philippines. Everyone has been tremendously friendly and, for me, it was an opportunity to engage with a culture that I’ve gotten to know very well in Canada," he said.
"So for me to be able to be here and see what a beautiful and welcoming country so many of my fellow Canadian citizens call home or original home is a real pleasure," he added. – Rappler.com