MANILA, Philippines - Five South Korean lawmakers, including Philippine-born Jasmine Lee, vowed to help Korean-Filipino (Kopino) children abandoned by their Korean fathers in the Philippines.
The lawmakers visited the Kopino Children Association shelter in Quezon City on Friday and met with around 19 children and their Filipina mothers.
Jasmine Lee, a Philippine-born South Korean lawmaker, shakes hand with a Korean-Filipino girl at the Kopino Children Association shelter in Quezon City on December 21, 2012. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
Lee, a Filipina who became the first foreigner to become a lawmaker in South Korea, said this was the first time the South Korean government is reaching out to Kopinos in the Philippines.
"Pinaka-unang trial ito ng South Korean government to get involved with the Kopinos. This is the first stage. The reason why we're here is to listen on what they really need, to see how it is and to see the truth of the stories we've been hearing," she told ABS-CBNnews.com.
Lee Joo-young, the president of the Korean Parliamentarian League on Children, Population and Environment, said South Korea is willing to help but they will need to further discuss what assistance they can give to Kopinos.
"This Kopino issue is something new that we encountered in Philippines. With this meeting, we have seen the real situation of the Kopinos. When we return to Korea, we will discuss what we can help for the Kopinos," Lee Joo-young said.
In South Korea, the issue of Korean-Filipino children being abandoned by their Korean fathers was big news last year. The top three TV networks even aired documentaries about the issue.
"Last year kasi na-sensationalize ito. All three major TV stations in Korea aired documentaries about Kopinos... Ang naging image sa Korea ng mga Kopino children are children born out of wedlock from entertainers, bar girls... That's how they were selling these stories out," Jasmine Lee said.
South Korean lawmakers meet with several Korean-Filipino children and their mothers at the Kopino Children Association shelter in Quezon City on December 21, 2012. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
However, only a small number of the reportedly 10,000 Kopinos in the Philippines are children of Filipina entertainers.
Normi Son, whose Korean husband Cedric helped organize the Kopino Children's Association, said most of the Kopino children are born to Korean and Filipino parents who were married but broke up and left them.
"We have to correct the wrong information na binigay ng TV outfits sa Korea. They sensationalized the story. Parang lahat (ng Kopinos) ay disgrasyada at galing sa GROs," Son told ABS-CBNnews.com.
Korean citizenship for Kopinos?
At the Kopino Children's Association shelter, there are 19 children who live there and get free education.
"In order to bridge the gap between Korea and the Philippines, we need to raise the status of the children by giving them the best education possible... We also help the parents become self-reliant by giving them livelihood projects," Son said.
Asked what Kopinos want from the South Korean government, Son said "not financial or material aspect but we hope, especially Jasmine Lee because she is the appointed representative for multicultural families, they can change their laws to accommodate Kopinos in the Philippines. I think the law only covers multicultural families who are only in Korea."
During the meeting with the Korean lawmakers, several of the Filipina mothers said they do not seek financial assistance, but help in terms of livelihood and education.
"At least we know now that they don't want ordinary help na bibigyan lang ng pera na sandali lang. Gusto nila ng long-term help -- mga programs sa mga nanay at education para sa children. Ayaw nila ng may magbibigay lang ng pera," Jasmine Lee said.
Some Filipina mothers raised the question of whether Kopino children can acquire Korean citizenship.
However, under South Korean law, the father has to recognize the child before he can become a Korean citizen.
"But if the Korean father does not want to recognize the child, the child can file a lawsuit against the father. But this is a long and difficult process and expensive. I think it will be better to focus more on livelihood in the Philippines and not too focused on getting Korean citizenship for the children," Lee Joo-young said.
Jasmine Lee said the lawmakers will go back to South Korea and figure out what concrete measures they can do to help the Kopinos.
"We have a long way to go and more work to do," she said.