Cost of Living

Canada's Filipino communities sent $1B to family and friends in the Philippines last year despite COVID-19

The amount of money sent as remittances to the Philippines from Filipino-Canadians and other expats was largely unchanged in 2020, despite global numbers dropping due to the significant economic disruption of the pandemic.

Money sent from Filipino-Canadians and expats largely unchanged during pandemic, bucking a global trend

Joy Tajanlangit owns a Calgary convenience store that also helps her Filipino community send remittances out of the country. (Submitted by Joy Tajanlangit)

Every day, Joy Tajanlangit sees people come through the doors of her store, looking to send money to people they care for in the Philippines.

"They just received their salary; they won't even see it pass through their hands. Just go straight to our store and send it back to the Philippines," said the owner of the Manila Convenience Store in Calgary.

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Tajanlangit's customers are not alone. They are among thousands of people who send money overseas to the Philippines from Canada.

The amount of remittances sent from Canada to the Philippines was largely unchanged in 2020 compared to the year before, suggesting that Filipino-Canadians and expats alike are striving to continue financial support for families and friends back home during the pandemic. This bucks the trend of global remittances, which saw a dramatic decline in 2020 including an 11 per cent drop in East Asia, according to the World Bank.

According to the latest data from the Government of the Philippines, as supplied to CBC News through the consul general's office in Calgary, people in Canada sent $1.08 billion to the Philippines from January to October of 2019.

Remittances over the same period in 2020 were almost identical: $1.079 billion.

Many stores, such as this food store in Saskatoon shown in a file photo, offer remittance services to send money abroad to countries such as the Philippines. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Tajanlangit witnesses the community's unwavering dedication up close at her store.

"I would give advice to them to take care of yourself as well," Tajanlangit said about her customers in an interview with CBC Calgary's Filipino pop-up bureau. "They've been working here so hard, and sometimes they don't even have a break in the whole week."

Overseas remittance is common in Canada

Sending remittances is common for many cultures in Canada, including those with Middle Eastern, Asian, Latin American and African roots. 

It involves sending a sum of cash to relatives or friends in another country through a bank or an international service such as Western Union.

Zaldy Patron is consul general for the Philippines in Calgary. He says remittances make up ten per cent of the country's GDP. (Submitted by Zaldy Patron)

And for some countries — including the Philippines — those remittances are integral to the local economy. 

In 2019, the Philippines saw remittances of more than $42.8 billion from Filipinos living overseas, according to Zaldy Patron, consul general for the Government of the Philippines.

"This accounts for about 10 per cent of our country's gross domestic product," said Patron.

Many foreign temporary workers, immigrants, students and even Canada-born citizens feel compelled to help family and friends who still live abroad, despite their own financial uncertainties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Sometimes it would be like $200 every two weeks, to as much as about $2,000 every two weeks," said Tajanlangit.

"That could either save [family and friends] from hunger or sometimes hospitalization, their kids being in school. You know, without that, it would be really hard for them to live."

Financial ties aren't always familial

Tajanlangit sends about $1,000 a year to Frtzy Jaleco in Iloilo City, Philippines. Jaleco, a 28-year-old call centre agent, said the money helped pay for her education.

"Without Joy's help and support of sending me remittance money, I wouldn't have finished college yet, most probably," she said. "This is the reality that I and many students who come from low-income families face."

Jaleco and Tajanlangit are not related. She's the daughter of an old friend of Tajanlangit's. 

After sponsoring members of her own family to immigrate to Canada, Tajanlangit said she felt compelled to continue supporting others back in her home country. 

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Remittances result in joy, but resentment, too

While many in the Filipino community make these financial contributions gladly, a feeling of resentment can also bubble up from time to time, according to Ernie Alama, a scholar with St. Mary's University in Calgary who has studied the sociology of the Filipino diaspora.

It's kind of a mixed feeling that's actually haunting us maybe... until the end of our lives.- Ernie Alama, expert in the sociology of the Filipino diaspora

"There is no point of end. So when, for instance, parents or siblings are already economically stable, you have nieces and nephews and it goes on down the line," he said.

"There's a mixed feeling, resentment, because you don't want to be doing it over and over for the rest of your life. At the same time, there is joy when you see your family being happy with what you have done to support them. And it's kind of a mixed feeling that's actually haunting us ... until the end of our lives."

Technology and changing attitudes

Looming trends have the potential to disrupt the culture behind sending remittances, beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.

New apps and the tech companies behind them are finding ways to bypass service fees and commissions charged for the conventional methods of sending money abroad.

Tajanlangit said she's already starting to see these startups eat into her business of facilitating remittances.

  • Click here to find more stories from CBC Calgary's Filipino Pop-Up Bureau.

But what is also coming, regardless of technology, is generational change.

Second and third generation Filipino Canadians are less connected to their parents' or grandparents' birth country, according to Alama. So those people are likely to feel the social pressures around remittances. 

"I can see that in my children. Questions, for instance, 'Well, why should I be sending money there, dad?'" said Alama.

"So what would happen if you just stopped? You're actually breaking up relationships. They expect your support," he added.

Written by Falice Chin and produced by Paul Karchut, with files from the CBC Calgary Filipino bureau.
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