Plus points on human rights, a miss on environment for Justin Trudeau

Mara Cepeda

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Plus points on human rights, a miss on environment for Justin Trudeau
(UPDATED) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is confronted by the issues of human rights, women empowerment, and his country's illegal shipment of trash to the Philippines at the 31st ASEAN Summit

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not lost his charm on the Filipino people. 

He still received a rockstar welcome from throngs of squealing ladies – and even gents – who scrambled to get selfies with him, including government officials and Filipina entrepreneurs

CROWD FAVORITE. Even men want a picture with Trudeau. Screenshot by Rappler

Trudeau was in Manila from Sunday, November 12 to Tuesday, November 14 for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits, his second visit to the country that once dubbed him as an “APEC hottie.”

But the highlight of Trudeau’s trip was not the burgers he ordered at Jollibee, but that he was among the few world leaders there who dared raise the issue of human rights to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trudeau, who had branded himself a champion of human rights, was asked by a Canadian reporter if he had discussed the issue with Duterte when they met for the ASEAN-Canada Commemorative Summit on Tuesday. 

He did, telling Duterte that Canada is “concerned” over the human rights violations and extrajudicial killings happening due the Philippine drug war, which has claimed the lives of thousands of drug suspects. 

CANADA-PH TIES. Trudeau meets Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his partner Honeylet Avanceña on November 13. Screenshot by Rappler

But the two world leaders differed on how this conversation went: Trudeau said Duterte was “receptive” to his comments and that it was “very cordial” talk, but the Philippine leader later told reporters he took Trudeau’s comments as an “official insult.”

Trudeau admitted that his country is no stranger to human rights abuse, as their indigenous tribes have suffered from “neglect marginalization, and mistreatment for decades, if not centuries.”

The topic was briefly discussed as well during Trudeau’s first sit-down meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

WORLD'S YOUNGEST. Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacina Ardern are two of the youngest world leaders. Photo from New Zealand Labour Party's Twitter Page

Trudeau also announced Canada will be investing $17.8 million for the 5-year implementation of the Sexual Health and Empowerment Project by Oxfam International in the Philippines. But did not give other details on the project yet. 

He also led a forum at the Yuchengco Museum, where he faced partners and beneficiaries of the Gender-Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women (GREAT Women) Project.

The livelihood program designed to empower Filipina women began in 2014 and is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. (READ: Trudeau calls PH’s women micro-entrep project ‘a model for the world’)

Trudeau, who had formed Canada’s first gender-balanced Cabinet, gave his two cents on feminism during this forum.

“I know the word feminist still scares a few people. But it simply means recognizing that men and women are equal and should be equal. And second, that there’s still an awful lot of work to do to get it. If you can say yes to both of those things, guess what, you’re a feminist!” he said. 

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At the end of the ASEAN-Canada Commemorative Summit on Tuesday, the co-chairs’ press statement welcomed Canada’s “renewed focus on multilateralism, including its new feminist approach to international development assistance.” 

ASEAN nations and Canada agreed to advance gender equality by supporting micro, small, and medium-scale enterprises following the provisions under the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-Canada Enhanced Parnership and the Initiatives for ASEAN Integration Work Plan III.

Still no commitment on trash talk

The issue of a Canada company’s illegal shipment of trash, which Trudeau dubbed as a “longstanding irritant” to Manila, hounded his visit as well.  

But despite calls of environmentalists for the Western country to finally take back its garbage, Trudeau still did not commit to do it. (READ: Environmental group slams Trudeau’s ‘inaction’ on Canada trash in PH)

Instead, the Prime Minister only said it is “now theoretically possible” for Canada to remove the trash. But several issues need to be ironed out, he explained, including who should bear financial responsibility. 

Trudeau, whom his public relations team fashion as a climate change advocate, also inspected a new model of an electric jeepney in the Philippines that has an air-conditioner and a ramp for persons with disabilities. 

GREEN INSPECTION. Trudeau rides the COMET 3 with Philippine Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

In a press conference, Trudeau also said reducing coal use is the “greatest challenge” to climate change, adding there is a need “to reduce fossil fuels in general to move towards a low carbon economy.” 

But the Canadian leader has long been criticized for being a hypocrite on climate change because he is supporting pipeline projects linking Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia and the United States Midwest. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.