South Korea-PH: The past and the future
Venerando N. Dumo, a Philippine combat soldier, was taken prisoner by Chinese troops on July 14, 1951. He was engaged in the Korean War as a member of the UN forces, and was on a reconnaissance mission when he was captured. After being held captive for nearly a month, he was freed back to UN control.
The release of Private Dumo was a stroke of luck. Until then, the Chinese troops were practicing psychological tactics to avoid battles with foreign soldiers like Dumo, so they released him without expressing great hostility. Such tolerance was the last such gesture, and soon a fierce battle broke out on both sides.
We have recently discovered this story through original document files held by the National Archives of the United States, while carrying out a project to illuminate the Korea-UN relationship. We also confirmed in the same document that there were 7,420 Filipino soldiers in Korea, of which 341 would end up fallen and wounded.
For them, we only have infinite awe and respect. One more impressive fact is that the Philippines was a country that quickly decided to send its troops to Korea, third only after the United States and Great Britain. The Philippines also took the lead in providing supplies for civilian relief. Records from September 1951 show that relief supplies such as rice and soap arrived in Korea from the Philippines.
A recent report from Korea caught our attention: The Korean government has decided to provide face masks to Korean War veterans in 22 countries, in return for their sacrifice. Needless to say, this is a very small gift, but it shows how much Koreans respect these veterans and the countries they came from.
The peak of Filipinos’ love for Koreans is their love for K-pop. The Korean Wave, better known as Hallyu, couldn’t have achieved worldwide success without Filipino fans who have led the way in promoting the popularity of K-pop to the world. People may wonder why Filipinos fall for K-pop. The most obvious clue is that older Filipino singers like Freddie Aguilar had already dominated Asia and the world. His song “Anak,” which he sang in the 1970s, was familiar to all Koreans, and was popular all over the world. Likewise, in recent years, the song “Ikaw,” recorded by Filipino singer Yeng Constantino, gained great popularity in Korea. Perhaps these Filipino singers share the same DNA as K-pop, and sowed the seeds of K-pop becoming a big bonanza worldwide.
But, the unsavory and shocking news that has emerged recently about a quarrel online between Filipinos and South Koreans must be reversing this bond that the two countries have built. Young Koreans and Filipinos quarreling with each other on social media is hardly tolerable, because it is neither sensible nor rational. The most absurd thing is this is not about racism and hatred. Such topics are far from the real subject of debate, and are too groundless to serve as genuine basis for any talk.
What both sides need to do right now is to pause and to look at who they are fighting with. Koreans need to know that they still have a lot of debt to repay the Filipinos. It’s encouraging, in fact, that the Korean government has tried to put this into practice over the years. In Korea’s 2020 ODA project, for example, the Philippines is in the second tier along with Laos and Ethiopia, and they each receive approximately 22 billion Korean won.
Although Korea has been doing its best so far, it is difficult to say that it has been able to repay all its favors to Filipinos. The good news is that there are many positive signs in terms of person-to-person exchange. Koreans regard the Philippines as a paradise on earth and a land of opportunity. Looking at the human exchange between the two countries, there is a reason beyond simple statistics. People of both countries come and go to each other to build new lives and attain prosperity.
For young Filipinos, what I would like to specifically ask is for them to understand how sensitive Koreans are to vestiges of Japanese imperialism, such as the “Rising Sun Flag.” I hope young Filipinos would recognize how much the colonial liquidation that happened during that time is now a big issue in Korean society. The danger of domestic problems spreading abroad is lurking anytime, anywhere. But if this danger has spread to the Philippines, I am quite sure it is a temporary and impulsive phenomenon. That’s why I hope young Filipinos don’t get too swayed by the reckless voices of some young Koreans.
There is a saying that the ground hardens after the rain. I believe today’s turmoil between some young people of both countries will be the driving force for a future-oriented relationship. To this end, they should get over their dispute, and regrasp the true nature of the issue itself: Koreans pointed out the problem of a Filipino star’s tattoo with the image of Japanese imperialism, and the Filipino star apologized for it. Therefore, this issue should have already been resolved, and all the commotion still going on is reckless and irrelevant. Please remember—no finger-pointing between friends!
Min Yong Lee is a visiting professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, and also served as its director of the Research Institute for Security Studies in 2011-2015. He earned his Ph.D. (political science) at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1987. Just before the military service, he served as the dean of academic board at the Korea Military Academy. His research area includes North Korea’s military, ecology and politics, and national security strategy. Recent publications include two books on Korea and the United Nations.
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