New Philippines study network plans to close NZ-Philippines knowledge gap

Last week, a group of Filipino researchers gathered at the University of Auckland. They were there to launch the independent initiative Philippine Studies Network Aotearoa New Zealand, a platform to engage the Filipino community more in New Zealand, build up Philippines Studies as a research area, and strengthen Philippine-related knowledge and resource exchange in New Zealand. 

The Philippines and New Zealand have connections stretching back decades – the year 2026 will mark 60 years of official diplomatic relations between the two countries.  

Stats NZ data also shows that the Philippines is New Zealand’s second largest contributor to net migration, with 30,350 migrating here in the 12 months to 31 August, 2023. On top of that, research from the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Perceptions of Asia report shows that 53 percent of New Zealanders view the Philippines as a friend and recognise the value Filipinos bring to New Zealand’s workforce, especially in healthcare.       

However, despite all this, Network convener Dr Sarah Jane Lipura said New Zealand lacks a deeper knowledge of and engagement with the Philippines.  

And that’s where the Network plans to come in. 

A large group cluster in the centre of a classroom for a photo

Attendees at the inaugural forum. Image: Supplied

“Recognising this gap, the Network hopes to encourage collaborations between researchers and sectoral stakeholders across the motu to contribute to evidence-based policymaking and advocacy,” she said. 

The Philippine Studies Network Aotearoa New Zealand was officially launched on July 1, at an inaugural forum. Two panels were featured: one focusing on the Filipino community and one looking at advancing Philippine Studies in New Zealand. 

The first panel looked at building stronger community connections for Filipinos – from Amie Maga of the Migrant Action Trust talking about the Trust’s work launching community groups to build these connections, to Geoff Wood of Rosmini College discussing how to connect generation 1.5 Filipinos, or those born in New Zealand, with their culture. 

This panel also touched on the exploitation of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) – Nina Santos of E tū talked about the "grateful migrant effect", which she partly attributes to the filipino concept of ‘Utang na loob' (debt of gratitude). This cultural value can make some Filipino migrant workers more susceptible to exploitation by employers. They may accept low-wage, exploitative jobs with the mindset that "at least this is much better work than what I had in the Philippines." Santos emphasised that resolving worker exploitation requires intervention at the government-to-government level.

The discussion turned to a more academic approach in the second panel. Dr Lovely Dizon presented her PhD research, which focused on how Asian adolescent migrants negotiate their cultural identity and the implications of this for their health and well-being. 

She found younger migrants would often feel isolated as they navigated their cultural identity, wrestling with questions like ‘am I Filipino enough?’. Connecting with others who ‘looked like them’ went a long way in dealing with this isolation – hence the need for community groups and strong cultural connections. 

The forum was held on July 1, to launch the Philippine Studies Network Aotearoa New Zealand. Image: Supplied

Following Dr Dizon came some thought-provoking questions for the Philippines Studies Network - Professor Camille Nakhid from the Auckland University of Technology challenged the attendees to consider where was best to focus efforts. For example, who are the target students, Filipino or any nationality? And what does the Network want from this initiative? 

The Network's aims are to create a platform for dialogue on issues relevant to the Filipino community in New Zealand, develop Philippine Studies as an important field of research and source of policy insights, and help with Philippine-New Zealand knowledge exchange.

University of Auckland’s Te Whare Marea Tātari Kaupapa | Public Policy Institute (PPI) was co-organiser and
co-sponsor of the forum and Technical Assistance and Management Services New Zealand Limited (TeAMSNZ) was a co-sponsor.

You can find out more about the Network from its website. This story was contributed to by Joyce Bonde and Eleanor Wenman.

- Asia Media Centre