The Explainer: Korean Invasion

Last year, I watched a Chinese New Year Parade In Baguio City, and almost everyone marching down Session Road was Korean. I recently visited Cebu, and everywhere you looked, were gigantic Korean tour groups. There are Koreatowns sprouting all over our country. A new wave of immigration, visitations, and investments has begun. Are we prepared? Are we too welcoming or this early on, already too hostile?

The so-called Korean Invasion, is our topic for tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. The Koreans are Coming


Last Friday, Lee Eun Hee, a South Korean computer programmer and first-time tourist in the Philippines, earned a distinction. She was the one-millionth passenger to arrive at the Clark airport. That is, since Oct. 30, 2003, when a Korean airline launched the Inchon-Clark route.

A musical band serenaded her, a free roundtrip ticket to South Korea and free accommodations at a local hotel were awarded her. And her arrival came at the heels of a topic increasingly on everyone’s lips. The topic is the growing number of South Koreans in our country.

They made a big deal about the millionth arrival at the Clark airport, because ever since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the Clark and Subic areas have been looking for new ways to build up their economy.

Ironically, just a couple of weeks back, someone told me that they encountered a surprise when they climbed Mount Pinatubo. At the volcano crater’s edge, there’s a spa –run by Koreans. There, they bury you up to your beck in warm volcanic sands. I was even told that in the crater lake, there are paddleboats –run by Koreans.

Now besides that story, no one else has told me about this Spa, perhaps some of you among our viewers can confirm it.

But what we do know for certain, is that another famous Philippine volcano has attracted South Korean attention. Our colleague Tony Velasquez even dedicated a whole show to the topic. Which was, should the South Koreans be allowed to build a Spa in the crater of Taal Volcano?

At a time when our country’s supposed to be welcoming investments from overseas with open arms, South Korean investments have become controversial. You have to wonder if we’re serious about opening up to the world economy or not.

One thing is sure, though. We can’t ignore the South Koreans because they’re paying a lot of attention to us. Whether this is a virtuous, or vicious cycle, I leave up to you.

A remarkable series of articles in the Philippine Daily Inquirer says it all.


The series  began with a piece by Margie Quimpo-Espino titled, Koreans ‘invade’ the Philippines.

It tells us that 378,602 Korean tourists came to the Philippines in 2003, and that the number went up to 572,133 in 2006, a 51-percent rise

The article also tells us that the Bureau of Immigration couldn’t furnish the Inquirer with figures on how many Koreans were granted alien certificates of registration in the country.

And the article went on to say, that the growing number of South Koreans has begun to lead to social tensions. For example, a broker said that many house owners in Manila are wary about renting their abodes to Koreans.

The article even mentioned that a country club in the north limited the number of Koreans who could go in at any given time. At one point, I heard that club had even posted a sign, “No Koreans allowed,” a scandalous thing to do.

After all, we were once a people that objected to the sort of signs the Americans had in their clubs prior to our independence. “No dogs and Filipinos allowed,” one such sign in the Army and Navy Club used to say, before the war. Imagine Filipinos doing the same thing? But the sign saying “No Koreans allowed,”, if it was ever put up, isn’t around anymore, thank God.

Now you might ask, with so many Filipinos eager to leave our country, why is one nationality eager to live, work, study, and relax over here?

The article says there are varying reasons why there is an increasing number of Koreans in the country. Some want to learn to speak English and doing it in the Philippines is cheaper; for others, studying college here makes financial sense; still more enjoy the lower cost of living and the luxuries such as servants, that they could never afford at home. Seoul, after all, is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

What I’ve also heard is, studying and living here enables young Koreans to avoid the obligation of rendering military service.


The next piece in the series is by the paper’s Mindanao Bureau, titled Korean businesses are bullish in Davao.

A Korean company’s chief operating officer, Justin Choi, is quoted in the article. It gives us an insight into the investments strategies of the Koreans. Explainee, would you like to read what Mr. Choi said?

We’ve gone to Baguio, Cebu and Boracay but decided that Davao City is best for development… There is still much untapped potential in Davao… The city is the second biggest in Asia, it belongs to Mindanao which has good resources and good weather (no hurricanes here), its international airport was constructed by a Korean company, it has a lot of good factors to attract foreign retirees, low prices with high potential for economic growth and plenty of chances to develop a very big project.


How big are the projects they have in mind? Look at its three phases:

First.  A 120-unit residential hotel estimated to cost P355 million in a 7,200 square meter lot in Buhangin area. And a 12.9-hectare resort and residential farm subdivision estimated to cost P60 million in the nearby island garden city of Samal. Both projects, which will begin construction this month, target the high-end Korean, Japanese and Australian tourists and retirees coming to Davao.

Second. Development of a 760-hectare property near Davao City, where they plan to put up a P9 billion resort with a 27-hole golf course and a subdivision.

Now earlier, we found out that Koreans come here to learn English. But this article also points out there’s another group going into language studies. Since Korea increases its job quota for Filipinos to 12,000 this year, learning centers offering Korean language courses to Korean-bound overseas Filipino workers are also popping up.

And here’s another article in the series, by, Vincent Cabreza and Gobleth Moulic of the Inquirer’s Northern Luzon Bureau, titled Who’s afraid of Korean businesses in Baguio?

The article tells us that Baguio claims it is second to Metro Manila as the preferred destination of Koreans in the country.

The average number of Korean tourists who visit the city, according to the article, lies somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 each week during the peak travel season.

Meanwhile, the city’s grade schools and universities have at least 2,000 Koreans. And as a whole, Koreans dominate the 67,000 foreigners who have made Baguio their second home.

And finally, an article that gets to the heart of the matter. It was by Jolene Bulambot and Irene Sino Cruz of the Inquirer’s Visayas Bureau, and it’s title was, Only Korean businesses earn from Korean tourists.

At present, according to the article, Korean businessmen owned at least 200 business establishments located in the different cities in Cebu ranging from tour agencies, restaurants, Korean-English schools, bars, nightclubs, flying school and convenient stores.

There are 52 to 60 Korean-English schools in Cebu, 17 travel agencies and several restaurants, beach resorts, dive shops, bars and convenient stores owned by Korean nationals.

This makes for a growing Korean community. There are at least 13,000 Koreans residing in Cebu, mostly students and tourists.

Every week, we have at least 500 Koreans visiting Cebu, and the numbers add up.

For the first three months of this year, more than 60,000 Koreans have already visited Cebu followed by 13,000 from the United States. They arrive on the 16 direct flights to South Korea from Cebu flown weekly by four different airlines.

Now all of these facts are remarkable, but I’d like to suggest something even more remarkable. And that is, that too many of these figures are imprecise, and so, we’re doing a lot of guesstimating, instead of really, clearly, reckoning what the impact of the Korean presence is.


When we return, our need to take a wider look, at our relationship with Korea, past and present.


II. Blame it on the Rain


That was a music video featuring Rain, the Korean actor and R&B singer.

The Korean Wave, or Hallyu, has crashed on our shores like a cultural Tsunami. But it’s something the whole region’s felt, too.

Last May, Agence France-Presse reported that In the first study of its kind, almost 4,000 people across major cities in Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand and Indonesia were probed on their music tastes on how they sourced for their music.

It emerged that only two Western bands were named among Asian listeners’ favorite acts: American group Black Eyed Peas and rap-rock band Linkin Park, both of whom had recently toured the region. Way ahead of these American talents in terms of regional appeal, were Taiwan’s rapper Jay Chou, Singapore pop star JJ Lin and Hong Kong veteran Andy Lau.

But even that article couldn’t –or didn’t- know an even bigger music sensation existed, and that’s Rain.

But even as young Filipinos sway and swoon to the music of Korean pop stars, and cut their hair according to Korean fashion, and other Filipinos get engrossed by Korean telenovelas, Filipinos have had a long time relationship with Korea and Koreans.


Take a look at this map. It shows the territories taken over by the imperial powers as of 1939. Within the Japanese empire’s territory were Taiwan, then known as Formosa, taken by the Japanese from China in 1895, and Korea, previously an independent kingdom and taken over by Japan in 1910.

You know, explainee, for the prewar generation of Filipinos, the conquest and colonization of Korea served to breed mistrust concerning Japanese motives.

And if you’ve noticed, undergoing colonization, leads to a kind of angst. Sometimes Filipinos wonder if our being exposed to American culture was always a good thing. Well, the Koreans have had to wrestle with their own culture having been suppressed during thirty-five years of Japanese rule.

If you ever have a chance, read this book titled “Alpha Beta.” Among its many fascinating alphabet-related stories, is the story of the South Korean script, Hangul. The story of it’s development is remarkable; but so was its renaissance after it had been banned by the Japanese.

You know, we’ve had episodes on the Japanese Occupation and the massacres they perpetrated. Quite often you hear some Filipinos say, that those massacres were conducted by Korean and Taiwanese troops under Japanese command. But when I asked those knowledgeable on the subject, they say it’s not true.

The Japanese spread the story that the massacres in Manila were the doing of their Korean troops. But the 250 Korean and Taiwanese in the Japanese forces in Manila in 1945, were port workers, who promptly surrendered. And the only Korean division of the Japanese army sent here, ended up in Mindanao.

But what is true, is that when Japan surrendered, Korea remained in Japanese hands. And a division of the peninsula took place between the Com

munists and the Americans. An engrossing account of how various nationalities, the West, and the Japanese, handled this situation can be found in “Ruins of Empire”:


It tells us of how Korea was divided, and many other things besides.


For an older generation of Filipinos, of course, Korea and the Philippines was about a shared defiance of communist aggression during the Korean War, when the Communist North Koreans tried to invade South Korea.

There’s a great website on the Philippine Expeditionary force to South Korea. In it, you can read many stories, including how President Fidel V. Ramos was an authentic military hero of that war. And of course, how a young reporter named Ninoy Aquino showed great derring-do at the front.


You may also remember our show on North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs.


Writing in the Asean Focus Group, Filipino scholar Patricio Abinales pointed out a failed relationship. In the 1980s, the Communist Party of the Philippines sent emissaries to North Korea, then under the Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Their mission was to convince the North Korean Communists to sell sophisticated weapons to Filipino Communists. They failed.

But whether communist or democratically-oriented, Filipinos on both sides of the fence have long-standing relationships with South and North Korea.

For another generation of Filipinos, Korean-Philippine relations revolved around a shared commitment to democracy and People Power: Kim Dae Jung admired Ninoy Aquino and he  and Cory Aquino were -are- friends.


Recently I’ve been reading a very entertaining book, “Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles” (Simon Winchester) and there’s a passage that struck me that I’d like to share with you. If tensions are emerging between Filipinos and Koreans, we should be aware of tensions within South Korean society itself.

In his book, Winchester gave some advice about something we’d call “hiya,” or face. Explainee, care to read?

If you see a Korean on a golf course, do not approach him, no matter how dreadful his play might be, and advise him on how he might improve matters; he would be deeply offended, and you would be deeply wrong. “To lose face is bad,” Confucius is supposed to have said. “To make someone lose face is unforgivable.”


He then goes on, to explain the Confucian concept of society:


The Confucian ideal, in a society like Korea’s where Confucianism is still widely followed, is a simple one: if people will agree to forget their individuality and concentrate on their duties, then they can be guaranteed that they will be treated with respect and kindness by all. Self-abnegation is bargained, in other words, for universal respect. Happiness is to be gained through human things, coming to terms with oneself, one’s family, one’s community.


But the new world, Winchester says, with its materialism, represents a challenge to the traditional Korean view of society:


The modern world, which has Korea firmly in its grasp, offers a very different deal. Self-abnegation has been replaced by self-assertion. Human relationships, respect for elders, certainty of place in society -all these things are being overlooked today, and Koreans, like the rest of us, search for happiness through the purchase of goods and services, the quest for material pleasure and success.


The sense of shame, then, comes from this collision of the old and the new:


The two systems, the material and the Confucian, sit uneasily together. the assaults on Confucian values result in many more frequent tribulations among those who still cling to traditional ways- and deep within themselves most Koreans do, for a myriad of reasons -because of their upbringing, their fondness for the country, and for reasons of sentiment and faith. “He made me lose my face” is heard more often these days because of the disharmonies between the two systems. We hear of cases… of what is called maum sang hada: a state of mental anguish over the loss of face that can make its victim want to give up, to throw in the towel, to retreat from society and hide in shame. You hear tales of people wasting away and dying, so sever is their shame.


And so, Winchester asks,


Which, then, is the better of the two systems? Is a life of self-abnegation, respect for others, a sense of duty, and correct behavior more worthy than a life of self-assertion, of total freedom, of “looking out for Number One”? Or… do we have a more fulfilled society when all is carefully structured social harmony, where the jen and the yi, the yin and the yang, are in near-perfect equilibrium, where no one raises his voice, and every parent is revered by every child, where the elders are cared for, children are adored, imagination and innovation and invention are feared rather than favored, and the individual is forgotten?


It might be, that Koreans who come here, do so to reject the traditions of their society. But we probably haven’t talked to enough Koreans to know one way or another.

We don’t pay enough attention to developments in our part of the world. One opinion maker who does, is our next guest. He believes we have much to learn from the Koreans, and how they’ve built a successful economy.


My view


Here we are, in some cases bothered by Koreans, like our countrymen in Baguio who say, Koreans are noisy. In other cases, we’re resentful of Koreans, like the tour operators in Cebu, who complain the Koreans only give their business to fellow Koreans. Or we’re mistrustful of the Koreans, like the brokers who won’t rent out properties to them in Manila. The end result is we’re in danger of becoming xenophic and racist, of doing to Koreans what was once done to us: putting up signs like “No Koreans Allowed.”

But I’d like to suggest to you, our viewers, that whether its news reports, or statements from government officials, the only thing I think we can say for sure, is how uncertain we are about the nature of the growing Korean presence in our midst.

We can’t say how many, exactly are here; we can’t determine what sort of backgrounds they have –are they good, hard-working people, or the social misfits and who knows, swindlers and racketeers of South Korean society? Who these Koreans are, what sort, and what kind of money, they’re bringing over, should matter very much to us. There are some investments and investors we should welcome with open arms; others, whom we should keep at arm’s length.

The proper determination precedes the appropriate strategy; and we need facts, hard facts, and not guesstimates.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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