Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Canada's response to Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda)

A Philippine flag flutters atop the control tower of a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, in the central Philippines. Haiyan is possibly the strongest typhoon ever to hit land.
Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
It is heart-wrenching to listen to the stories of survivors of Supertyphoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it is known locally in the Philippines), and to the stories of Montrealers who haven't yet been able to get in touch with their loved ones in the affected parts of the Central Visayas. At this point, I feel like the only things I can do are to continue trying to get in touch with my friends and acquaintances in Tacloban, Cebu and St Bernard, to donate to disaster relief efforts, and to urge the Canadian government to strongly support relief and recovery efforts. So, I wrote to my Member of Parliament, Mr. Marc Garneau, this morning. Here is that letter.

Dear Mr. Garneau, 

As one of your constituents in the riding of Westmount - Ville-Marie, I strongly urge you to take an active stand in Ottawa in pledging more and immediate support for the communities affected by Supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The disaster affects me personally and professionally, and I am extremely disappointed by the paltry response of the Government of Canada thus far.

My doctoral research explores how Filipinos rebuild their lives and livelihoods after a disaster. Since 2010, I have spent nearly a year in the Philippines visiting communities affected by disasters, interviewing survivors, and learning about critical issues and challenges. Everywhere I went, I was received with warmth, kindness and generosity. Everywhere I went, the resilience and ingenuity of Filipinos emerged as common strategies for living with uncertainty. I expect that the survivors of Haiyan will exhibit these same traits, but the effectiveness of these traits in rebuilding lives and livelihoods will be limited without significant and thoughtful financial assistance in both the short
 and long terms.

As of Monday November 11, the Government of Canada has announced support for two funds to help relief efforts in the Philippines: one fund of up to $5 million for humanitarian relief (14 cents per Canadian), and another fund that matches the donations of Canadians to registered Canadian charities between November 8 to December 8. Yesterday,  it committed to deploy Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). I think Canada's promise to help is grossly inadequate and ignores the importance of the Philippines to Canada. Please permit me to explain.

The Philippines provides a lot of human capital to Canada. It is now the number one source country for immigrants to Canada. Manitoba, Saskatchewan,  Alberta and British Columbia all have formal labour agreements with the Philippines. A similar agreement for the Atlantic provinces is underway. Many of the caregivers who care for Canadian children and elderly are Filipinos, providing a vital service that Canadians are unwilling or unable to do. Many more Filipinos or Canadians of Filipino descent work in engineering, health care and other sectors of the Canadian economy.

The strong interests of the Canadian mining sector in the Philippines vastly outweigh the pledged humanitarian response. The latest (2008) published statistics from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines indicate Canadian mining companies invested more than 1.2 billion dollars in Philippine mining projects (table 1). Although these mining sites do not lie within the path of the supertyphoon, maintaining goodwill between Canada and the Philippines is important to the social license Canadian mining companies require to operate overseas. Moreover, the revenues and repatriation of copper, gold, silver, nickel profits to Canada are surely worth hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to Canadian companies. A donation of
 up to five million dollars and an undetermined amount of matching dollars is minute in comparison to the mineral wealth mined and repatriated to Canada. A significant response to the current disaster would indicate Canada cares about the people and not just the mineral wealth of the Philippines.

Table 1: Canadian Mining Companies Operating in the Philippines
Source: Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Philippines
(million $)
Sitio Canatuan, Bgy. Tabayo, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte
TVI Resources Development Philippines Inc.
Maco, Compostela Valley
Apex Mining Corp. Inc (Crew Gold)
Victoria, Mindoro Oriental
Crew Minerals
Jabonga, Santiago, Tublay, Agusan del Norte*
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Balabag, Bayog, Zamboanga Sibugay
TVI Resources Development Philippines Inc.
Bgy. Camanlangan, New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Sitio Capcapo, Licuaan-Baay, Abra
Jabel Corporation (Kadabra Mining Corp., Olympus Pacific Minerals, Inc.)
Bgy. Balibago, Lobo, Batangas
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Bgy. Balibago, Lobo, Batangas
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Camanlangan, Panay and Fatima New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Bgy. Camanlangan, New Bataan, Compostela Valley
Philco Mining Corporation (Sur American)
Malimono and Mainit, Surigao del Norte
MRL Gold Phils., Inc.
Source: Isa Lorenzo and Philip Ney. 2008. The Canadian quandary. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. 28 December 2008. http://pcij.org/stories/the-canadian-quandary/

While I laud the government's pledge to match the generosity of Canadians supporting disaster relief efforts, I expect that the amount the government pays out will be drastically lower than what Canadians actually contribute. This is because the majority of money sent by people with a direct Philippines connection will not go through a registered Canadian charity. Instead, the money will be channeled as remittances sent directly to family, friends and Filipino organisations working at the grassroots level. Thus the GOC will pay comparatively little to the money wired through global payment service companies like Western Union, MoneyGram, WorldRemit and others.

Finally, why did the government wait until 11 November, three days after Haiyan made landfall in Eastern Samar on 8 November, before deploying the DART? The Tropical Storm Risk website began issuing alerts about Haiyan on 4 November. The DART should have been deployed last week to Japan, to be ready and in the Philippines on Saturday, right after the storm passed. It would not have cost Canadian taxpayers any more money, and most importantly, it could have helped to mitigate the emerging crisis due to clean water and food shortages, and severely damaged communication and infrastructure systems. With storms becoming more and more destructive, I expect my government to adjust its response to effectively deal with disasters, which requires a proactive stance. Stephen Harper claims his Conservative government is the best option for managing money; delivering food and water after the people have died is not effective. As such, the current government is living in the past; I want a government that is prepared for the present and the future.

Given the strong existing ties between Canada and the Philippines and what I understand as the moral obligation of Canada, I strongly urge you to speak up on behalf of Canadians who want their federal government to take more and immediate action to support short-term disaster relief and long-term recovery in the Central Visayas.

Thank you.  Sincerely, 

CC: Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party Leader), Thomas Mulcair (NDP Party Leader), Stephen Harper (PM), Elizabeth May (Green Party Leader), Daniel Paillé (Bloc Québecois Party Leader), Christian Paradis (Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie), John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs) , Tobias C. Enverga Jr. (Conservative Senator), Jean François Bouthillette (Radio Canada reporter), Leslie Gatan (Philippine ambassador to Canada), Robert Desjardins (Canadian ambassador to the Philippines)

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