‘Family ties’ push Canada to give more Yolanda aid

MANILA, Philippines – Shortly after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the Philippines in November 2013, Canadian Senator Tobias Enverga Jr found a bag of clothes on his doorsteps. It was a donation for Yolanda survivors. 

Enverga – “the only Filipino senator outside the Philippines” – said this shows how much Filipinos “actually make such an impact on the Canadian social fabric.”

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder agrees.

Reeder told reporters on Wednesday, January 13: “When Haiyan came along, Canadians were deeply touched with what they saw. Canadians have many family ties to the Philippines. Every person I basically seem to meet in the Philippines has a family tie to Canada.” 

He also said that Canadians, through the media, also heard Yolanda surivors “speaking in English about their situation, which also communicated their situation even better to audiences in Canada.”

Reeder explained this on Wednesday as he announced a new P700-million* ($14.67-million) round of donations for Yolanda survivors. 

Canada said it is coursing the P700-million donation through the following groups:

Reeder said Canada is coursing the aid through non-governmental organizations, not the Philippine government, “because of the speed, because of the need to move quickly, and because we don’t, as a government, want to be involved in the details, nor do we think it’s efficient to have other governments involved.” 

Based on latest government data, the Philippines has completed only 30.3% of projects and activities to rebuild Yolanda-hit communities.

Filipinos: 2.4% of Canada's people

Explaining Canada's new round of donations, Reeder stressed that the Philippines remains an important country for Canada. 

The Philippines, after all, is “the largest source country for new Canadians” based on latest data.

Reeder said 800,000 Canadians of Filipino origin live in Canada, a country of 34 million people. 

This means around 2.4% of Canada’s population came from the Philippines. 

He added that Canada has issued 40,000 permanent resident visas to Filipinos, making the Philippines “the largest source of immigration to Canada” ahead of India and China.

Reeder also said Tagalog is the “fastest growing language group.” 

Tagalog, in fact, is one of the top 5 languages spoken in Canada, along with English and French.

“Given that strong Filipino-Canadian community, there's a lot of interest in Canada in what happens in the Philippines,” Reeder said.

From mailroom worker to senator 

Born in Lucena, Quezon, Enverga belongs to this Filipino-Canadian community. 

An economics graduate from Letran in Manila, he first worked in a Philippine bank. He then left the Philippines in 1981 and flew to Canada, where he “started with the lowest of the low” – as a mailroom worker.

Enverga later took a course in information technology, among other things, to improve himself. Eventually he became a project manager at the Bank of Montreal, his workplace for more than 30 years. 

Now the father of 3 children, he became a Canadian citizen in 1985. 

Then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to the Canadian Senate in 2012. 

Enverga said that because of his 3 decades in Canada, he himself knew that Filipinos can influence Canadians to help Yolanda survivors. 

He said that when Yolanda struck the Philippines, Filipinos banked on being “the most employed citizens in Canada.” 

Back then, every Filipino-Canadian employee “just asked their boss, ‘Boss, we have to contribute funds to the Philippines.’”

The Filipino-Canadian senator said, “So those kinds of little things made it happen.” – Rappler.com

*$1 = P47.73

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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