On the morning of November 16, an unexpected news permeated the Canadian political arena and the Filipino community in Canada.
The Honourable Senator Tobias C. Enverga, Jr., was reported to have died while on a trip abroad.
Letters of condolences started to pour in as the day progressed, all marked with sadness and recognition of the accomplishments of the Senator in politics and the local community.
In this special issue of Filipino-Canadian in Focus, Philippine Canadian Inquirer (PCI) pays tribute to the man who championed the rights of Filipino immigrants and those of the differently-abled.
From Philippines to Canada
The Senator from Ontario was born in Lucena, Quezon in the Philippines on December 2, 1955. Long before becoming the first Filipino-Canadian senator, he was ‘Jun’ to his family, friends, and colleagues.
Enverga obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at Colegio de San Juan de Letran, a Catholic school in the Philippines famed for producing national heroes, presidents, and politicians. Thirty-six years after his college graduation in 1976, Jun would be added to the long list of great men shaped by Letran.
With his Economics degree, Enverga worked for a Philippine bank for some years. It was in 1981 when he flew to the Great White North to “seek greener pasture,” according to his beloved wife, Rosemer.
In an interview with PCI in 2013, Rosemer said, “At that time, when Tobias Enverga, Jr. (now a Senator in Canada) was my boyfriend (I fondly call him, Jun), he left for Canada to seek adventure and greener pasture, so to speak, leaving me behind in the meantime.”
Jun started with an entry-level position of mailroom worker in one of the chartered banks in Canada. Two years later, after finding “some economic stability,” he returned to the Philippines to wed the love of his life.
“We married in January 1983. By April of that year, I came and joined him here (in Canada),” Rosemer said. Their marriage produced three beautiful daughters named Rystle, Reeza and Rocel.
In 1985, Jun became a Canadian citizen.
He also pursued further academic studies and gained a Masters Certificate in Project Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University, and a Computer Studies Certificate from Centennial College.
For over thirty years, he worked as project manager for the Bank of Montreal.
Jun and the community
“Giving back to our community was always important to us. This was because we believed that we are so blessed here in Canada that we should share our blessings,” Rosemer said.
These values dear to the Envergas gave birth to the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF), founded by Jun in 2008. Through PCCF, the couple was able to help the less fortunate by organizing events for the Filipino community in Canada.
PCFF brought Filipino-Canadians the annual Pinoy Fiesta Toronto, Miss Philippines Canada, and other Pinoy-oriented beauty pageants.
“It is gratifying to see Pinoys in the country unite and work together for the fruition of these events. Best of all, we do all these aimed at helping our poor kababayans, while having fun,” Rosemer said.
PCFF’s beneficiaries include the Kapuso Foundation, Tahanan Walang Hagdanan, Answering the Cry of the Poor, Archdiocese Filipino Catholic Mission, and the Elsie Gaches Village.
Jun founding the PCFF, in a way, was putting his dream into action.
“You see, long before Jun became a Senator, at the bottom of all his email messages he sends out was a Japanese proverb, stating, ‘Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare,’” his wife said.
Awards of excellence
Jun’s charitable deeds were celebrated around the world.
In 2008, he received the ‘Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino (LINKAPIL)’ presidential award, bestowed to him by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for his “significant contribution to reconstruction, progress and development in the Philippines.”
He was the only individual presented with the LINKAPIL that year. The other four recipients were organizations from different parts of the world.
Two years later, Jun made history by becoming the first Filipino-Canadian elected to public office in the city of Toronto when he became trustee of Ward 8 of the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2010.
In 2012, he received the ‘Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal’ for his “exceptional and meritorious service.”
Road to Senate
The accolades Jun received in and outside Canada was instrumental to another mark he imprinted in history. In September of 2012, he was appointed by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Senate.
Speaking about his five Senate appointees, Harper said in 2012, “Their broad range of experience and dedication to community will further strengthen the institution and benefit the entire country. Their skills and experience will help to further advance our shared goals of jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.”
True enough, Jun, now known as Sen. Enverga, worked on growth and posterity for all Canadians by supporting bills that advance the rights of immigrants and the differently-abled, and preserve the heritage of various ethnicities, among others.
“My duty as a Senator is to represent the Province of Ontario and to represent Filipino-Canadians from all over the country, to give them a voice at the federal level of government. I am proud to represent you in the Senate of Canada,” Sen. Enverga said in September this year, as he reflects on his fifth year in the Senate.
Ode to a ‘friend to so many across Canada’
Sen. Enverga passed away at the age of 61 while on a parliamentary trip to Columbia. He was in the South American country for the annual ParlAmericas Plenary Assembly, along with Liberal MPs Bob Nault and Randy Boissonnault, NDP MP Richard Cannings, and Conservative MP Bev Shipley.
His passing shocked and saddened his colleagues and the Filipino-Canadian community.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement following the Senator’s death.
“Senator Enverga served Canadians long before his appointment to the Senate in 2012, and was the first Filipino-Canadian elected to public office in the City of Toronto,” Trudeau said. “As a Senator, he continued to actively promote the values of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusiveness. He was well respected by colleagues in both Houses of Parliament.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the Senator’s passing. He described Enverga as a “cherished colleague” and a “friend to so many across Canada.”
“The tragic loss of his welcoming and sunny personality leaves a large hole in the lives of all who knew him,” Scheer said in a statement.
“Sen. Enverga was the kind of person who could make anybody feel welcome and valued, a quality that is so important for those who act as ambassadors for communities of new Canadians. He embodied what we all want to see more of in public life,” he said.
“Sen. Enverga’s commitment to his community, his country, and to Canada’s diversity and pluralism will be deeply missed by his many friends and colleagues in the Senate and in the Conservative family,” he added.
The Speaker of the Senate, George J. Furey, recalled the many contributions of the Senator not only to the government but also to the community.
“Senator Enverga will be most remembered as a fierce advocate for persons with disabilities and a tireless champion for multiculturalism. He was respected by all of his colleagues for his kindness, his warm sense of humour and his unparalleled work ethic,” Furey said in a statement.
“In every aspect of his parliamentary work, Senator Enverga was not shy about sharing his deep love for Canada,” he added.
“It has been a privilege to serve with him and I know he will be dearly missed by everyone in the Senate family,” Furey said.
Sen. Enverga was survived by his wife and three daughters.
To say Senator Enverga was a larger than life character would be an understatement. He will always be remembered as a great champion of the Filipino-Canadian community and of those with special needs.
He will be dearly missed by those whose lives he touched.
Members of the public who wish to leave a message of condolences for the family of Senator Enverga may do so at this link: www.SenatorEnverga.com/Guestbook