Libre: Fil-Kiwi bets

FOR the first time, the two major parties in New Zealand – National and Labour – are fielding Filipino-Kiwis in the 2017 General Election for Members of Parliament set on September 23. Paulo Garcia and Romy Undanga were chosen by their party members in a crucial test for the leadership of Prime Minister Bill English, who took over John Key.

Garcia is contesting the New Lynn electorate that has been a Labour stronghold represented by former Labour leader David Cunliffe, who challenged Key in the last election.

Presently, the Honorary Consul-General for the Philippines in Auckland, Garcia is a practicing lawyer. He co-founded the New Zealand Philippines Business Council and actively serves as resource person in public forums on issues affecting Filipinos who are working in New Zealand.

I’ve known Garcia for some time, having met him in the High Court where I used to work and in social and community functions. A soft-spoken gentleman, Garcia started from scratch in his law practice and has become the go-to lawyer of Filipinos in the Auckland area.

Romy Udanga migrated to New Zealand in 2007. With his wife Fritzi, he operates out-of-school care programmes for primary school children. In the Philippines, he worked as a university lecturer, a training officer with Asean and an editor with various publications.

While I’ve organized many community-oriented activities in the Auckland area, I had not encountered Udanga, and I reckon it must be because he was more into politics, while I was not going into that direction.

While most Filipinos welcomed the entry of Garcia and Udanga in mainstream politics, I’ve discovered it will be an uphill climb for them.

Firstly, the electorates where they are running are strongholds of the opposing party. While former Labour leader Cunliffe had opted to retire from politics, Deborah Russell, a tax expert from Massey University and considered an outsider, has the full-backing of the Labour leadership.

Secondly, the candidates have to raise $25,700 each for their electorate campaign. The party does not provide that money rather the candidate has to ask for donations from supporters. One Filipino told me, “I can’t believe that not only are they asking for my vote, I have to contribute to their candidacies.”

Finally, both Garcia and Udanga are in the party list, that allows them to become MPs even if they lose in the electorate. But then they are in the tail-end not in the safe rankings.

The real fight for both Garcia and Udanga will be in their respective electorates. This will include door knocking, attending public meetings and getting people to campaign for them.

While it is commendable that both National and Labour have included Filipinos as candidates as acknowledgment of the growing population, I wonder if this is tokenism, a symbolic effort.