February 8, 2014 by Noel Pangilinan
(Click video to know what Filipino community and church leaders want.)
NEW YORK CITY – Rosalina Cionelo was looking forward to retiring in the Philippines a couple of years from now. At 76 years old, she was planning to return to a home in Dulag, Leyte that was built with her earnings as a domestic worker in the United States for 17 years. But on November 8, Typhoon Haiyan, considered the strongest storm to ever hit land anywhere in recorded history, devastated her province and swept her retirement house into sea.
“I am not sure how I can rebuild,” Cionelo said. “I only know that I have to work much harder, back to square one, to rebuild my home for my retirement and help my family.”
Josie Gutierrez, a human trafficking survivor, said at least two relatives in Biliran, a province that used to be part of Leyte, lost their homes due to the powerful wind, rain and tidal surge brought about by Haiyan. Her sister’s house, where her mother was also staying, fortunately survived the onslaught. She said her sister took in two families rendered homeless by the storm to stay with them for a while. Aside from her mother and sister, Gutierrez’s monthly remittance now supports an additional two families.
Juana Dwyer is also from Biliran, like Gutierrez. And like many people from Biliran, she has relatives in Leyte. Her mother’s brother lives in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte and considered the hardest hit among the towns and cities ravaged by Haiyan.
“Until now, I have not heard from my uncle and his 12 children,” Dwyer said.
There are about 3.5 million Filipinos in the United States whose lives were affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Like Cionelo, many of them saw their lifetime’s worth of hard work wiped out by Haiyan’s wrath. Like Gutierrez, almost everyone here in the U.S. is supporting families back home who survived the super storm. Like Dwyer, nearly every Filipino here has relatives who died or are still missing in the wake of the killer typhoon.
Rather than wallow in misery and hopelessness, Filipino Americans braced themselves and resolved to contribute to the rehabilitation, recovery and rebuilding of their Inang Bayan or motherland. The task, however, may be daunting. With the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimating the total damage from Typhoon Haiyan at PhP571 billion or $13 billion, it is obvious that Filipinos need all the help they can get.
The United States has a humanitarian policy of granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to nationals of a country that is going through an extraordinary crisis, such as an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, an epidemic, etc.
With the TPS designation, nationals of the country in distress are temporarily allowed to stay and work in the United States without fear of being deported. They can also apply for travel authorization and be allowed to return.
El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria currently have Temporary Protected Status designations.
El Salvador has the highest number of TPS beneficiaries with 217,000. Syria, which is embroiled in a civil war, and Haiti, which was rocked by a magnitude 7 Mw earthquake in January 2010, are the most recent TPS grantees.
The Philippine government has officially requested TPS designation for the Philippines as early as Dec. 13, one month after the Category 5-level Storm Haiyan battered the Philippines, and two months after a 7.2 Mw magnitude tremor devastated several islands in the Visayas region of the archipelagic nation.
Several Filipino American grassroots organizations, church groups and government leaders have banded together to persuade the DHS to grant the TPS designation. To date, the DHS, however, has not yet responded to the Philippines’ request for TPS designation.“The TPS can and will be a big help in easing the suffering of Filipinos in the U.S. who have families and friends directly affected by Typhoon Haiyan,” Fr. Julian Jagudilla of the Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, said.
“The Philippines is in dire need of financial assistance,” Fr. Patrick Longalong of the Filipino Diocesan Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn, said.“The remittances by Filipinos in the U.S. who are potentially eligible for TPS will go a long way in stabilizing the Philippine economy devastated by the recent typhoon,” Fr. Longalong, whose mother’s family hails from Leyte, said.
Lawyer Leandro Lachica, president of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the TPS is especially beneficial to Filipinos who are staying and working. “They are vulnerable to start with. And with the disaster, they have become more vulnerable. But with the TPS, we hope we can protect them.”
Remittances from Filipinos working abroad have been instrumental in the past in propping up the Philippine economy. Now after Typhoon Haiyan, money sent by overseas Filipinos are needed more than ever to keep the country afloat.
In 2012, Filipinos around the world sent home a record $23.8 billion, according to a World Bank report. Of this amount, more than 40 percent, or $9.5 billion, comes from Filipinos in the United States.
“The $9.5 billion remittance from U.S.-based Filipinos already constitutes almost 75 percent of the funds needed to cover the $13 billion damage brought about by Typhoon Haiyan,” lawyer Cristina Godinez, project coordinator for the Migrant Center, said.
Like Cionelo whose retirement home was demolished by Haiyan’s fury, Filipino Americans know that they have to work much harder to rebuild their homeland and help their families in these times of great need. They are only asking for a little protection while they put their hearts and minds into rehabilitating a nation that has historically been a close ally of the United States.
(Listen to lawyer Cristina Godinez of the Migrant Center talk about how Filipino Americans’ remittances can help Philippine recovery efforts.)