Our reaction to Friday’s catastrophic landfall of Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines is one of empathy and commiseration.
We in the Cayman Islands are all too familiar with the devastation that can be wrought by nature.
With maximum sustained winds of 195 miles per hour, the storm, which Philippines authorities named Typhoon Yolanda, may be the strongest tropical cyclone at landfall in recorded history. (Compare this with Hurricane Ivan’s wind speed of 165 miles per hour when it struck Grand Cayman in 2004.)
Authorities estimate that 10,000 or more people may have been killed in the Philippines by Haiyan. More than 11 million people have been affected and 673,000 displaced from their homes.
The Philippines has a diasporic population, with some 12 million of its roughly 110 million citizens working overseas.
In the past couple of decades, many Filipino jobseekers have found their way to Cayman. As of the end of last year, Cayman had about 2,700 Filipino work permit holders, accounting for 13 percent of work permits and making it the second-largest nationality on work permits, behind only Jamaicans.
Over the years, thousands of Filipinos have lived here and have contributed significantly to Cayman’s society. Many have come and gone, but many others have settled down with their families and planted strong roots in the country.
The calamity of Haiyan provides an opportunity for Cayman to recognize, embrace and support our local Filipino community.
After the typhoon hit the Philippines, Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin offered condolences and prayers, and urged Cayman residents to help anyone who has been affected by the storm.
In addition to thoughtful gestures, our government should take real action to help Cayman Filipinos who are in distress, within the practical limits of a tiny U.K. overseas territory.
We have a pair of suggestions the government should consider.
The first idea (which we can’t take credit for, but was passed along from an anonymous individual) is for government to suspend the 2 percent tax on money remittances sent from Cayman to the Philippines.
Remittances sent from Cayman to the Philippines total about US$20 million per year. If government suspended the remittance tax for a year, that translates to about US$400,000 in lost revenue. That level of contribution is well within Cayman’s ability to provide, especially considering the immediate and direct potential impact the extra money may have on families of Cayman Filipinos.
Secondly, we presume that many Cayman Filipinos belong to the pool of workers holding Temporary Limit Exemption Permits or otherwise preparing to apply for permanent residency or return home.
When considering permit and residency applications by Cayman Filipinos, the government should take into account the condition of applicants’ home regions and avoid issuing callous and inhumane directives to ship people back to disaster zones. Any such special considerations should be defined properly, announced publicly and applied uniformly.