The opportunity for practical application of faith is what tipped the scales for Romy Udanga in his decision to seek a parliamentary seat.
Mr Udanga is the first parliamentary candidate supported by a major party from the Filipino community in New Zealand. He is unabashedly Catholic.
“When I was selected as a candidate, the first words out of my lips were, ‘I thank the
Lord for this opportunity’,” he said. “Being Catholic is natural to me. It’s just who I am.”
Mr Udanga was with the Auckland Diocesan Pastoral Council for the past five years. He left the council last year to organise the Filipino Labour Network.
“At that stage, I was seeing that a lot of the value system I loved when I came to New Zealand [was] being eroded by a lot of focus on financials instead of looking after
intergenerational benefits,” he said.
He added this helped him come to conclusion that something needs to be done to influence governmental policies towards social justice.
Despite the fact that Prime Minister Bill English is Catholic, too, Mr Udanga felt the Labour Party embodied more of the same values that he had.
“Their [Labour Party] values reminded me of the verse in the Bible: ‘am I my brother’s
keeper?’ In this case, I am my brother’s keeper,” he said.
Mr Udanga also explained there are about 50,000 to 60,000 Filipinos living in New Zealand, which is more than one per cent of the population.
“That’s a significant number. And about 95 per cent of those who came here would be workers. Even if they didn’t have any idea of the political landscape here . . . [I think]
they would be pro-Labour,” he said.
Mr Udanga said his priorities would include pushing for more affordable housing
as well as better health and education systems.
Mr Udanga came to New Zealand in 2006 and became a citizen (“a Kiwi”) in 2011. He
is currently a financial adviser. He holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration
from Waikato University.
He was also formerly a university lecturer, training officer at ASEAN level, journalist and community organiser. He helped organise sugar farmers in one of the provinces in the Philippines during the regime of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
It was a dangerous time when people who were fighting for their rights disappeared
without a trace.
“It was then that I learned what trust means — when people had to put their lives in your hands and I had to lay mine in theirs,” he said.
Mr Udanga is Labour’s candidate in the North Shore electorate, a seat held by former
broadcaster Maggie Barry (National) since 2011.
“I don’t view anybody as my opponent. [The campaign] is not personal against any individual,” he said.
Campaigning against a person, he explained, creates conflict.
“Conflict is not what we’re here for. We are here to unite people under a common banner which is ‘I am my brother’s keeper’, and that’s how I want it to be,” he said.