Korean-Filipinos, Filipino-Koreans

by Dr. Seong-woo Choi, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

4 October 2010

Seoul - The term “Korean-Filipino” refers to a person (1) who is half-Korean and half-Filipino, and lives in the Philippines or (2) who was born in the Philippines to Korean parents. Since the Philippines allows dual citizenship but South Korean does not, Korean-Filipinos have to choose their nationality before age 18. This applies to the males in particular because they have to go into Korean military service. On the other hand, a Filipino-Korean (1) is half-Korean and half-Filipino, and lives in Korea or (2) was born to Filipino parents but acquired Korean citizenship. Like the Philippines, Korea does not follow the territorial principle; meaning, people who were born in Korea to foreign parents do not automatically become Korean citizens.

Many Korean tourists and students who study English in the Philippines meet Filipino women. Some of them get their Filipino girlfriends pregnant, then abandon them. The Filipino women end up as single mothers. The issue about the so-called “Kophinos” — children of absentee Korean fathers and Filipino mothers, who were born in the Philippines — has been receiving increasing attention these days from both countries. Some South Korean NGOs have begun to establish branch offices in the Philippines to provide social services to the Kophino children and their mothers.

Unlike Chinese-Filipinos (known as “Chinoys” or “Tsinoys”), Korean-Filipinos do not have their own well-defined communities. The history of Korean migration to the Philippines is not considered long, as proven by the fact that many Korean-Filipinos intermingle with and live like native Filipinos. Lately, though, a sense of their identity has been percolating in many half-Koreans, mainly due to the influence of Korean popular culture, “Hanryu” or “Korean Wave,” such as Korean soap operas and K-pop.

Koreans in the Philippines

Korean historical records say that a Korean maritime merchant, Jang Bo-go, visited the Philippine archipelago sometime the 8th century, and that a few Korean Catholics took refuge in the country in 1837. Accounts of the full-scale Korean settlement in the Philippines began only after World War II.

During World War II (1939-1945), the Philippines and Korea were under Japanese rule, and Korean soldiers who were conscripted by the Japanese army were sent to the Philippines. Some of the Korean soldiers got married to Filipino women, remained in the Philippines for good.

Another war soon erupted — the Korean War (1950-1953) — and created another Korean settlement in the Philippines, this time “in reverse.” Filipino soldiers fought on the side of the United Nations forces in Korea, and some of them got married to Korean women. About 30 Korean wives moved to the Philippines with their Filipino husbands after the war.

Larger-scale Korean migration occurred decades later, this time driven by economics. Since the 1980s, the escalating cost of labor in South Korea has pushed many companies, especially those in labor-intensive manufacturing industries, to relocate to other countries with cheaper labor. The Philippines was one of them. The managers of the companies that uprooted to this country came over with their families.

Since the 1990s, South Korean trading and construction firms, and restaurants have joined the beeline to the Philippines. Meanwhile, with the new millennium came droves Korean tourists and students to learn English. The tourists often enroll in short-term courses in English language schools. Children make up a large proportion of the Korean students in the Philippines. The country is also very popular among retired Koreans on fixed pensions—an alternative which the Philippine government is vigorously promoting.

There are now close to one million Koreans in the Philippines, and the number is growing rapidly. The country’s close proximity to Korea and warm climate (no winter) makes it attractive to South Koreans. Many tourists choose to spend their vacations in the dozens of beautiful beaches of the archipelago, such as those in Mactan, Bohol, Boracay, and Palawan, as the Philippines is only four-and-a-half hours away from Seoul by airplane. In addition, the tropical country is a paradise for Korean golf players because they can indulge in the sport all year round.

Koreans are also flocking to the Philippines because of the relative ease in setting up a business, even with a small budget. The comparatively low cost is the same reason numerous Korean students come to learn and practice speaking English. The Philippines has many qualified English teachers offering English tutorial courses at very reasonable fees compared with the prevailing rates in native English-speaking countries. Moreover, living in the Philippines is much cheaper.

Koreans who have made the Philippines their favorite destination are inspiring other Koreans to do the same. Many of those who have already settled down in the country are encouraging their compatriots set up businesses here. Korean entrepreneurs need Filipino partners to set up shop; moreover, the Korean restaurants, grocery stores, travel agencies for Korean tourists, English educational centers, and so forth have Filipino employees.

Big Korean companies have likewise opened branches in the archipelago. For instance, Hanjin Heavy Industries, one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world, constructed a shipbuilding facility in Subic Bay in 2008. To complement the South Koreans who comprise Hanjin’s manpower core, the company has hired thousands of Filipino skilled workers. To serve the needs of the Korean workers and executives who have moved to the Philippines, other enterprising Koreans have established hotels, lodging houses, restaurants, and related businesses, all of which create job opportunities for Filipinos. The Korean commercial migration to the Philippines has thus had an influence on both the Korean community in the country and Philippine society.

The Korean population in the Philippines is expected to hit and pass the one-million mark in a few years. If the trend continues, new Korean communities will likely sprout even in the remotest areas. In fact, Koreans are already scattered all over the country; Baguio City is their favorite destination next to Metro Manila.

These days, many males in South Korea, especially those who are old and living in the countryside, look for Southeast Asian brides because it is very hard for them to meet and date Korean women. Their children (born in Korea) are called “Kosians,” while the family is called “Damunhwa Gajok,” meaning “Multicultural Family.” Filipino-Korean children fall under the Kosian and Damunhwa Gajok category.