Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, February 2, 2014



By Fred Vergara

New York City, February 1, 2014:
This afternoon, I delivered an Invocation to a public forum held in San Damiano Hall of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City and listened to the stories of pain, suffering and hope.

Sally is an undocumented immigrant working as domestic helper in New York. She has worked hard for several years, saved as much as she could from her meager income sending dollars to the Philippines. Through her remittances, her family was able to buy a home and a farmland. She had hoped to return home in Palo, Leyte and retire this year. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November 8, 2013 and destroyed everything she had worked for. Now, she has to postpone her homecoming in order to help her family survive and for her to start saving again for another retirement plan.

Ray is another Filipino migrant who came “out of the shadows” to share his own story. Like Sally, his family back home experienced intolerable suffering and loss. Many of his relatives and friends lost their lives. He wanted to return home to comfort the bereaved but if he does, he would not be able to come back to the U.S. His “under the table” stipend as helper in a laundry mat supports not only his immediate family whom he has not seen for years but also the children of his relatives who are now orphans.

These are just two of the thousands of sad stories from an approximately 600,000 non-immigrants and undocumented Filipinos in the United States who hope for a humanitarian measure called “Temporary Protected Status” or TPS. Under an umbrella movement “TPS for Philippines Now,” grassroots organizations, church leaders, lawyers, various individuals and the Philippine Embassy are together advocating for this request to the U.S. State Department, initiated by New York Senator Charles Schumer and submitted by the Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia to the U.S. State Department last December 13, 2013. 

Typhoon Haiyan left 6,500 people dead, 4.5 million people displaced and over 42 million affected. It would take years for the Philippines to recover because even as rebuilding continues, new typhoons are forthcoming that slow down the rehabilitation process and threaten even more damages. The long-term effect to the environment is beyond description as arable lands, forests and natural habitats of animals, birds and sea creatures were destroyed.

TPS is a “blanket humanitarian relief” granted to migrants in the United States to allow them to travel to their home country and return to the U.S. freely. Typically granted for an initial period of six (6) to eighteen (18) months, the beneficiaries may not be deported, may obtain work permits and may have travel authorization. This measure will greatly help the thousands of migrants who must continue to remain and work in the United States in order to send remittances to their families who need their help even more, now.

TPS is granted to countries suffering from ongoing armed conflict such as civil war or revolutions; environmental disasters; epidemics; and extraordinary and temporary conditions that threaten the lives and security of a large segment of the population. Among the countries who have TPS are El Salvador (due to the earthquake in 2001); Honduras (due to Hurricane Mitch in 1998); and Haiti (due to earthquake in 2010). Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 created a situation of equal proportion.

Speaking in reference to Hurricane Sandy that hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, Fr. Julian Jagudilla of St. Francis of Assisi Migrant Center said, “Imagine the devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and multiply that 50 times! That is how bad Haiyan was! ” 

The Philippine government does not have the same quality relief agency like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and its bureaucracy is still lacking in U.S. standard efficiency. If it took years before the U.S. finally recover from Katrina and Sandy, how much longer would it take for Philippines to recover from Haiyan?  

In his recent State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama, mentioned that the first country to lend a helping hand to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan was the United States. It recalls the special friendship between the two countries that saw the War in the Pacific and the sojourn of the U.S. military bases. Once part of the U.S. territories (1898-1946), the Philippines was borne on America's "eagle wings." The Philippine democracy is partly shaped by American culture. 

Thus in his visit to the devastated Leyte  (where General Douglas McArthur landed in 1944 to retake the Philippines from the Japanese imperial forces), U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, remarked, “the U.S. government is committed to help the Philippines, however long it takes.” The TPS maybe another step in this direction: TPS FOR PHILIPPINES NOW!

The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara is missioner for Asiamerica Ministries in the Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church base in New York City and Priest-in-Charge of St. James Church in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.

See video of John Kerry in Philippines (copy and paste with your browser here): http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/world/asia_pacific/kerry-tours-philippines-typhoon-damage/2013/12/18/9ad2c816-67f3-11e3-997b-9213b17dac97_video.html

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