WHILE the Filipino community in New Zealand rejoiced in the induction of Paulo Garcia as a member of Parliament in New Zealand on May 16; on June 19, we grieved the death of two Cebuanos–Roymark Bering and Chary Sabalande–who figured in a train crash that left three other Filipinos injured.
Garcia, who is a close friend and having been associated with him in his law firm, did not win a seat in the New Lynn electorate in the 2017 general election; but the Mixed Member Proportional voting system allowed him to fill a seat vacated by a retiring MP in the National Party. He caught the attention of most MPs during his maiden speech when he revealed his being pro-God, pro-life and pro-family; and called on his colleagues not “to silence and condemn those with opinions that make them uncomfortable but are nevertheless opinions based on another person’s own beliefs and values systems.” When I had a chat with him during the Philippine Independence celebration in Hamilton on June 22, he told me that legislative work is demanding as he attends different meetings and sessions until late in the evening. In a recent shakeup of the National Party, the newbie MP was appointed as associate spokesperson for foreign affairs, a recognition not just of his having served as honorary consul general, but for the dedication he has shown within the National Party and in Parliament.
What is great about New Zealand is that one does not have to be a natural-born Kiwi to be a member of Parliament and Garcia acknowledged this, saying that, “it is a testament to this great nation that migrants can become New Zealanders and represent this nation in our House of Parliament.”
The tragic accident on June 19 involved newly arrived Filipinos wanting to pursue a dream of better life for themselves and their families, starting as fruit pickers. They were on their way to work, when their vehicle got stuck on the track, as a train headed in their direction. Their employers immediately attended to the need of the victims and their families, even accompanying the dead bodies of the two Cebuanos back to Cebu. The response of the Filipino community and the NZ general public to help was overwhelming. The Give-A-Little campaign raised $23,920 in 21 days, while the Filipino Catholic Chaplaincies of Hamilton and Auckland received donations of more than $6,000 in two weeks. There was even a request from the hospital for concerned Filipinos not to visit those confined as they needed to rest. Fr Fernando Alombro, Filipino chaplain, expressed his thanks saying: “The generosity that you have extended demonstrates the love of God, as it is written: ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’”