Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded, struck the Philippines in November 2013 with winds of up to 190 mph (305 kph). At least 10,000 people died in one Philippine province alone.

Typhoon Haiyan

Filipino domestic helpers remit more to help rebuild after typhoon Haiyan

Filipinos in Hong Kong will be sending extra home for years to come to help families rebuild, forcing them to put their own dreams on hold

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 6:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 6:26am
 

Filipinos working as domestic helpers will be sending more of their meagre wages home for years to come as their families rebuild homes and livelihoods devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the central Philippines last month.

In the storm's immediate aftermath there has been a 20 per cent increase in remittances at BPI Remittance Centre (Hong Kong), said managing director Benjamin Panganiban.

The Hong Kong subsidiary of Philippine National Bank, PNB Global Remittance and Financial Company, has seen a 5 per cent to 10 per cent increase, branch manager Belinda Martin said.

The money comes mostly from domestic helpers - people like Emilyn De Vincente, a 27-year-old from Capiz province, which was devastated by Haiyan. Known as Yolanda in the Philippines, the storm was the most powerful ever to make landfall, with most of the damage done by a huge storm surge much like a tsunami. Over 5,700 were killed and 1.2 million homes destroyed.

De Vincente does not expect the government of the Philippines to help rebuild her family home, which was levelled when the typhoon struck in early November. She has been collecting money and goods on her own, and sending them directly to her family.

"Although there are many donations from foreign countries, few have reached my family's hands," she said.

De Vincente used to send HK$1,000 of her HK$3,920 monthly salary back to the Philippines to support her parents, who are farmers, and five younger siblings. Because of Haiyan, she plans to send an extra HK$500 per month.

Her plan before the typhoon was to open a restaurant in Canada in two years' time. "I may have to be here seven or eight more years, maybe 10 years. I don't know," she said. "But I'm the only one to support my family."

According to the IBON Foundation, a non-profit research organisation based in the Philippines, it costs at least 250,000 pesos (HK$44,000) to build a house in the Philippines. That is almost equal to De Vincente's salary for a year.

Eman Villanueva, the vice-chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers' Union in Hong Kong, said: "Filipinos thought they would work here for only a few years to save money, then leave. But if an accident happens, it ruins everything.

"People end up working here for decades. They are trapped here."

Filipino overseas workers' remittances form a pillar of the economy of the Philippines, comprising about 9.8 per cent of gross domestic product. The cash remittances of 130,000 Filipinos working in Hong Kong exceeded HK$346 million in September alone, according to the central bank of the Philippines.

While official figures on remittances in November were not yet available, a surge in the coming months could be expected, said Rosabel Guerrero, director of the Economic Statistics Department of the central bank.

"Overseas Filipinos have been mobilising resources to fund not only the rebuilding of homes of families and relatives but also in the rehabilitation and recovery of areas hit by the super typhoon," Guerrero said.

Filipinos abroad do not have much extra cash to spare, said Sonny Africa, an economist with the IBON Foundation.

"The remittances they send will pay for food and for the repair of damaged properties. There will be much more pressure on them to earn more to compensate for the devastation of the local economy," Africa said.

Emma Alabado, president of the Capiz Achievers Association Hong Kong, said: "Properties like our houses are the fruit of our hard work. All of a sudden, it's all been washed away and nothing is left. It's very traumatic."

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