Villahanons in Canada: Meeting the Challenges in Their Adopted Country


(Dr. Quirino Ragub is a Villahanon born and raised in Tayud, Villareal, Samar. He is married to the former Gertrudes Seludo Llarenas with whom he has two (2) sons, Bernardo Anthony Ponciano (Bap) and GerRino (GR). He was a former Professor with an academic rank of Professor 6 at the Leyte Normal University in Tacloban City. In his tenure as professor at the University, he assumed various positions as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, Director for Alumni Relations and Department Head for Pre-Elementary Education on, Values Education and Special Education. Currently, he is a certified teacher in Ontario, Canada and a principal in a First Nations school in Northern Ontario. His family is happily settled in Ottawa.)

Villahanons generally think of Canada a welcoming country of vast opportunities. In my experience, this notion is true. Canada is truly multicultural and a country I can call my own. One’s language and culture are recognized to co-exist with others. Such is the tapestry of Canada that includes the uniquely Villahanon threads. For these reasons, Canada has now become an adopted country to some Villahanons. Yet coming to and settling in Canada posed some major challenges to Filipinos, in general, and to a Villahanon like me, in particular..

The first challenge- migrating to Canada. While this can be done in several ways such as an independent immigrant and a caregiver, or through a provincial nomination in Manitoba or by claiming refugee status, the current procedures and costs involved can be quite financially prohibitive. However, over a decade ago, this wasn’t quite the case. When my wife, GERTRUDES SELUDO LLARENASRAGUB, moved to Canada in 1990, immigrant admission requirements were more relaxed. Back then, no formal six months training was required from applicants to the caregiver program. Today, one’s training certificate is not enough to guarantee qualification to move to Canada.

Moving to Canada as a contract worker requires one to stay with the Canadian employer for two years. When the two-year contract is completed, one can either be released by the employer or be prevailed upon to stay. Most exceptionally good workers who agree for an extended period of service with their employers are able to negotiate the possibility of sponsoring a relative or sibling to come to Canada. After three years of stay in Canada, one can file for the sponsorship application for a family member. Because Canada is supportive of family reunification, the waiting period for family petitions is not very lengthy for as long as the Canadian immigration requirements are met. This is how Villahanons grew in number in Canada.

The second challenge- finding employment that is suitable to your Philippine job experience. Canada does not recognize degrees earned outside of its borders. Getting your credentials recognized is a very tedious process. I did mine, but I was made to pass through the needle’s eye. Every province in Canada has its own licensing body for every profession. And one must be licensed in every province you choose to work at. Because of the rigors and hassles of licensing, and for practical economic reasons, many first wave immigrants decided to forego of having their credentials recognized and instead opted to take on jobs that were not in line with their educational background and previous training and employment.

This trend in employment continued to such an extent that the Canadian government realized the enormous wastage of the human capital potential of immigrants because of the rigorous licensing requirements. It has now started to harness and optimize immigrant professionals. Despite this development, opening doors to foreign-trained professionals is still often met with opposition. This affects so many Filipinos who had well-paying jobs or lucrative businesses back home, but are forced to take on any job to augment family income while living in Canada.

The third and biggest challenge-coping with homesickness and managing one’s longing for Villa. When my wife came to Canada in 1990, our youngest son was only about four years old. On the day of her flight, she didn’t even wake our sons up because she couldn’t stand the thought of bidding them goodbye. The pursuit of a better future for our children was her driving force and source of determination. Coping with homesickness is costly – the phone bills can be enormous. However, most Villahanons don’t care too much about spending on long distance calls, for as long as they stay connected with their families back home. Fortunately, advances in communication technology have helped ease the homesickness of Villahanons in Canada.

Everything about Villa is missed so terribly. It is the fervent wish of every Villahanon to go back home in every August to attend the fiesta, but work and financial constraints do not make this possible. This longing for home is felt just as intensely by us, the Villahanons in Canada. There really is no place like home. There is no place like Villa.

To cope with our longing for home, Villahanons in Toronto and Ottawa started to celebrate reunions on the Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima every August. It began in 1999 when NORA COLLES-CHAWLA together with MARITES OCANA-ORBESO and THELMA OCENAR had the first gathering in Nora’s former house in Mississauga. Nora was the first hermana of the fiesta followed by Marites Ocana in 2000.

In 2001, the celebration was held in Ottawa with GERTRUDES (DING) LLARENAS-RAGUB as the hermana. An image of Santa Rosa de Lima donated by MANA ESTRING LATORRE and ‘NAY MELING QUIJANO, and the “Estandarte” donated by MSGR. LUIS LLARENAS were blessed and made the central focus of the festivities. This image of Santa Rosa deLima was brought personally by Mana Estring Tan-Latorre when she and son ATAT LATORRE came to Canada. The fiesta celebration in Ottawa that year was attended by Villahanons from the United States. MANA CARING PACO and husband MANO LINO, RAFFY OBREGON with wife NANETTE came all the way from California; ROMY and ROSIE AMINTOSO-LATORRE came from New Jersey; and GINA OBREGON flew in from Texas.

In 2002, it was Toronto’s turn to host the fiesta and it was my niece THELMA OCENAR-COLLES who was hermana. In 2003, the celebration was in Ottawa again and my cousin SOL AGOTE-SANTOS was the hermana. In 2004, the hermana was TET LATORRE-ARCANGEL followed in 2005 by BERNADETTE KATI whose roots are from Villa – the Sabios and the Nacionals.

In 2006, the fiesta celebration was held in Ottawa and was a dual celebration – the fiesta for Santa Rosa de Lima and our 25th Wedding Anniversary. With the VILLAREAL BAYANIHAN ROAD RECONSTRUCTION underway, Ding and I requested our guests to give donations to the road reconstruction project in lieu of gifts. Our friends and guests supported our request and we were able to generate one hundred thousand pesos for the road project.

Apart from longing for home, it is also the dream of every Villahanon to see the completion of the Villareal Bayanihan Road Reconstruction Project. This government-forsaken nine-kilometer road connecting the town of Villareal to the national highway has earned so many names. It was called a “Fiesta Road” because it was only in August (the fiesta month) that the cavernous potholes are bulldozed and filled with white soft stones. When the rainy days come again, these wide potholes become mini ponds that render impossible whatever kind of travel by car and motor vehicles. This road was also called “Panaaran” because of the promises of politicians during election campaigns. Elections came and went, and the promises of politicians have all vanished in thin air.

During one Villahanon Fiesta in Metro Manila, MAYOR REYNATO (BOY) RAPANAN LATORRE and DIRECTOR MARIVEL CAMILON-SACENDONCILLO challenged the Villahanons to take it upon themselves to initiate the improvement of the roads since the government had forever turned a blind eye to it. This was how the VILLAREAL BAYANIHAN ROAD RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT started. The challenge fired up the Manila-based Villahanons, and before long, Villahanons from all over the country and around the world wanted to be involved. With dedicated volunteer-service of ELIZABETH GELERA-LATOJA as chairperson for solicitation, monetary as well as material donations kept pouring in constantly for this road project. Free labor (bayanihan/pintakasi style) was provided by Villahanons in every barangay. Even municipal and national employees of the town gave their share of free labor on Saturdays. With the concerted efforts and sustained commitment of all Villahanons and friends of Villa, we know that the realization of this dream is not far behind. The Villahanons in Canada will always be counted on for whatever major project our town will undertake.

There are not many Villahanons in Canada. In Toronto, there is Nora Colles-Chawla and family;

Mira Colles-Hassan and family; Tet Latorre-Arcangel and family; Marites Ocana-Orbeso with parents Mano Arturo and Mana Lilia Ocana; Bernadette Kati and her sister Elsa Maricris Colles;

Juanillo Miel and family (whose roots are from Guintarcan); Mana Aday Quijano-Reyes the wife of

Dr. Jesus Reyes together with their children; and Amparo Ocana.

In Ottawa, there is Sol Agote-Santos with her children Josephine Santos-Tapiru and family; William Santos and family; Ruel Santos and family; Thelma Ocenar and husband Nieto Colles and family; Dandan Llarenas-Ferarris with daughters Frances, Glenda with her husband Blanco; Leonila and Althea Quejada; the Ragub family with my sons Bap and GR; Evelyn Hernandez-Caballero and family; Ethel Hernandez and Alice Hermosura-Tagimacruz.

In Vancouver, there is Belen Hermo Lababo, the sisters Marmie and Letlet Fallorina and Nick Alcorroque. In Winnipeg, there is Patrocinia Seludo Jerusalem-Paulo and family and our latest Villahanon arrivals are Gingging Latorre Tan-Ocenar and her husband Gil.

We may (still) be few in number, but we have a big heart in helping Villareal become a progressive municipality and a better place to live in and raise the future generation of Villahanons.

No matter how seemingly insurmountable the challenges we face here in Canada, we- strong-willed, determined, self-sacrificing and courageous Villahanons- tackle them head on and overcome them. We will not only prevail, we will flourish. This we know because of our love for our dearly beloved Villa and our faith in our beloved Patroness, Santa Rosa de Lima.