The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) led by Secretary Francisco P. Acosta and Undersecretary Astravel Pimentel-Naik, in partnership with the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, led by Charge d’Affaires Christian de Jesus held the first virtual Ugnayan sa Korea with the Filipino community via Zoom and Facebook Live on 8 November 2020. With the theme “#PINOY SeOUL HWAITING (FIGHTING)!”, the third in the series of CFO Ugnayan webinars launched this year under the “new normal” aims to reach out to our kababayans overseas during this time of Covid-19 Pandemic. This is also a follow up to the Ugnayan that was held in South Korea last year. Hosted by CFO’s Migration Advocacy and Media Award winners Gennie Kim and Nash Ang, the Ugnayan gathered more than 10,000 online participants, mostly coming from the Filipino community in South Korea, Philippines and other countries.

The pandemic which was declared by the World Health Organization a “global health emergency”, has overwhelmed the healthcare system, claimed thousands of lives and adversely affected overseas Filipinos in the “Land of the Morning Calm”, Oppas, and K-POP. Latest data from the WHO, reported having more than 27,000 confirmed cases and almost 500 casualties as of November 2020. Currently, there are more than 53,000 Filipinos, including marriage migrants, living and working in South Korea who are also affected by this global health crisis.

Secretary Acosta, in his comprehensive report about the government response to the pandemic, cited the countless initiatives of President Rodrigo Duterte in addressing the pandemic to wit: The declaration of a State of National Calamity on March 16, 2020, then convening of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), signing of Bayanihan to Heal as One Act I and II, imposing of travel bans and setting of health protocols and community lockdown measures to healthcare, food provision and livelihood assistance to affected Filipinos. Special government assistance (SAP) programs for OFs were also set in place such as repatriation program and free RT-PCR test for returning OFWs; DOLE’s “Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) Program” and other welfare assistance and social amelioration programs of several government agencies. He emphasized the President’s directive “Buhay Muna, Bago ang Lahat” – a holistic government approach to save more lives and prevent millions of projected infections during this time of pandemic.

The Philippine government continuous to intensify its Test, Trace and Treat strategies with more testing laboratories, contact tracers and isolation and treatment facilities. Justice Acosta underscored the significant decrease in our infection rate and the increase in our recoveries. With the increasing confidence in our fight against the pandemic, comes our high hope that the vaccine against the virus will soon be made available.

Charge d’Affaires Christian de Jesus, in his message, said that the Ugnayan’s theme is an apt description of our kababayans’ fighting spirit, resilience and amazing coping capability during this unprecedented and challenging time. The Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office remains open but on an appointment system, despite the health crisis, to provide consular services and other forms of assistance to our kababayans in South Korea.

Resources speakers from South Korea, include respected Filipino community leaders, Presidential Awardees, and experts, namely: Jasmine Lee, first Filipina and foreign born citizen member of the National Assembly of South Korea; Fe Kim, founder of the Filipino Korean Spouses Association; Edmar June Visda and Alicia Lipata of Daegu Filipino Community Council; Roger Amboy, President of the Seoul Filipino Catholic Community; Fr. Ted Gonzales, Counselor and Program Director of Center for Family Ministries; Elsa Laguardia, Counselor of Danuri Call Center – 24/7 Helpline for Crisis; Elena Dela Cruz, Counselor of Seoul Global Center Multicultural Center; and Vice Consul Lyza Viejo of the Philippine Embassy.

They discussed various issues and challenges faced by migrants during this health crisis, which include job displacement of EPS workers/ sincere workers due to several factories shutting down; difficulty of workers from the Philippines returning to Korea due to travel restrictions; many workers becoming undocumented due to work visa expiration and difficulty finding new job; and suffering from “Corona Blues” anxiety and mental health problems brought by the pandemic. They praised the efficient services and assistance by the Korean government extended to migrants, including the undocumented, who were affected by the pandemic. Notably, they also shared their organization’s respective services and how they have been helping their fellow Filipinos in Korea and the Philippines, through bayanihan during this pandemic. These humanitarian activities include information campaign about COVID-19, food drive, donation of face masks to migrants, financial assistance, financial literacy trainings, counseling, legal consultation, wellness and cultural activities, free language translation and interpretation, among others.

Ms. Lee gave an update that the “Anti-Discrimination” Bill is gaining momentum to be passed. The proposed law would prohibit discrimination based on religion, political ideology, or sexual orientation, and seeks to help minorities, including migrants.

Philippine-side resource speakers include Immigration Officer Carlo Magno Salazar of the Philippine Bureau of Immigration who discussed international travel restrictions and requirements for inbound and outbound passengers; Director Marita del Rosario-Apattad, Director Ivy Miravalles and OIC Rodrigo Garcia, Jr. of the CFO who shared how CFO provided assistance to clients repatriated back to the Philippines due to pandemic, and other innovative and flagship programs of the CFO such as Overseas Filipinos – CFO Online Registration System (OF-CORS), Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino Program, 1343 Action Line Against trafficking, Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas, and Migration Advocacy and Media Awards.

During the Open Forum, the following issues were raised – assistance to stranded EPS and sincere workers in the Philippines who can’t return to Korea due to international travel restriction; welfare benefits that may be claimed by undocumented migrants; support to single mothers / widowed marriage migrants with children; availment of health insurance benefits in Korea; possibility of building a network among E7-visa holders; timeline in the resumption of work and other temporary visa issuance; overseas voting registration for the 2022 Philippine elections; any sustainable livelihood assistance to those affected by the pandemic; Covid-19 Protocols while travelling from the Philippines to South Korea and vice versa; and possible date of the re-opening of border of Korea to Filipinos.

Online audience were also treated to heart-rending musical performances by Pinoy musical icon Joey Ayala and talented Heavenly Joy Calapiz of Seoul Filipino Catholic Community.

Usec. Pimentel-Naik gave the synthesis and ways forward, highlighting that the bayanihan spirit among the Filipino community is very much alive, and thanking the organizations and support groups for assisting Filipinos in the time of pandemic. She encouraged them to also provide post arrival orientation to newly arrived migrants in Korea to ensure their welfare and smooth integration to their host country.

The Ugnayan is part of CFO’s initiative in harnessing ties with overseas Filipinos and reaching out to them to discuss various ways of diaspora engagement that will promote their welfare and interests, as well as help optimize development in our home country. Earlier this year, Virtual Ugnayan were held in Japan and Los Angeles, USA; the next stop will be Hawaii, USA.

You may click the link below to view the full video coverage of CFO Online Ugnayan sa Korea: