Meet the Filipina who is now a South Korean lawmaker

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Dec 27 2012 10:40 AM | Updated as of Dec 28 2012 07:55 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine-born Jasmine Lee was thrust into the spotlight this year, after she became the first naturalized Korean to win a seat in South Korea's Parliament.

Philippine-born Jasmine Lee became the first naturalized Korean to win a seat in South Korea's National Assembly in 2012. Photo by Rem Zamora for

Now seven months after she assumed office, Lee said she has been been adjusting well to life as a lawmaker.

"Actually akala ko I was going to have a hard time adjusting pero luckily I've been adjusting well. And most of my fellow parliamentarians have been accepting me very well. They have been treating me so well," she said in a recent interview with

Last week, Lee visited Manila with four South Korean parliamentarians to look into the issue of Korean-Filipino (Kopino) children abandoned by their Korean fathers in the Philippines.

Lee ran as a proportional representation candidate under the New Frontier Party (Saenuri Party), the same party as South Korea's President-elect Park Geun-hye.

She campaigned for Park, and even helped craft some of her campaign pledges for multicultural families.

"Marami kaming campaign pledges for multicultural families, lahat ako gumawa... Isa sa campaign pledges, policy na ginawa ko ay ang H-3 visa kung saan bibigyan natin ng quota, out of the EPS (employment permit system) quota of each country, bigyan ng ibang quota ang mga kapamilya ng married migrant women na nasa Korea," she said.

A married migrant herself, Lee knows firsthand about the challenges they face in South Korea. She married Korean seaman Dong-ho Lee in 1994, and moved to Seoul where she did not know anyone or the language. She became fluent in Korean language while raising two children. In 2010, her husband died in a drowning accident.

One of the biggest problems of married migrants, Lee noted, is fighting loneliness.

"Isa sa pinakamalaki na problema ng married migrants sa Korea is loneliness kasi wala sila kapamilya at kailangan nila magpadala ng pera sa kanilang pamilya sa Pilipinas. If they have a sibling in Korea to work, puede nila ma-shoulder ang ipapadala na pera sa Pilipinas at sigurado ka kung anong klase ng tao ang mga magtratrabaho sa Korea," she said.

Known as an advocate for multicultural families, the 35-year-old Lee was even recently featured in a New York Times article on the shift to a multiethnic Korean society.

As the first naturalized Korean to be elected to the National Assembly, Lee attracted the ire of some xenophobic Korean groups. These groups have organized campaigns against migrant workers and immigrant wives, saying they have stolen jobs from Koreans.

Lee said she hopes to eventually change the perception of these anti-multiculturalism groups.

"Medyo nag-lie low na sila ngayon. Di rin natin matatanggal lahat nun kasi meron talaga mga anti-multicultural sa South Korea dahil sa kanilang mga past experiences. I just hope na with my four years at least mapalitan ang perception nila at mga iniisip nila. At yun hatred sa multicultural (families) hopefully mabawasan," she said.