What’s more, Eleanor “Nene” B. Ho has made it her life’s work to help her compatriots through an organization she founded some 10 years ago, the Filipinos Married to Taiwanese Association (FMTA). She is also the publisher of The Migrants, a monthly newspaper for Filipinos in Taiwan. Among others, these have earned her recognition last year as one of the Philippines’ Banaag awardees for significant contributions to overseas Filipino communities.
While she has been an activist for the rights of overseas Filipino workers and Filipina spouses of Taiwanese, Nene has maintained a harmonious relationship with the Taiwanese in general, and most especially with her loving Taiwanese husband with whom she has a daughter.
She is a mainstay in Filipino affairs in Taiwan and is one of the most active partners of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in taking care of expat Filipinos.
All about respect
“It is all about respect,” says this former English teacher born in Cavite City in 1944. “Filipinos have to respect themselves and show that they are worthy of respect, no matter where they are.”
Nene knows this firsthand because she herself was among the first Filipinos to work in Taiwan, host to almost 90,000 Filipinos working as factory workers, domestics, construction workers and fishermen, and professionals. Many Taiwanese men have also chosen Filipinas as brides through arranged marriages. An estimated 7,000 Filipinas now live there with their Taiwanese husbands.
Nene’s own marriage to a Taiwanese 20 years her senior developed along similar lines. A Business Administration degree holder from the Philippine Women’s University, she decided to try her luck in Taiwan after working in Manila companies. Arriving on a tourist visa, Nene wangled a job at the front desk of Taipei’s then-leading hotel, the Lai Lai Sheraton.
But though she did well enough for the hotel to request her extended stay, the Sheraton already had five other foreign workers so Nene transferred to a travel agency where she wrote promotional material.
Loving a Taiwanese
“My boss found me very useful for his business, so he really tried all means to get me to stay in Taiwan. The only means he found was for me to get married to a Taiwanese, so he introduced me to his friend and we got married for that purpose— to get a better visa for me to stay in Taiwan,” she says.
But Nene’s story does not end there.
“After marriage, we dated, we became close to each other and since I found him to be a very gentle, thoughtful, loving and considerate man, I agreed to live with him. That was how he became my husband. Now we have one daughter who is studying at the university,” she says.
After marriage, Nene set about with industry, determined to make her marriage work by balancing career and family obligations.
“Though I was working then in a travel agency at daytime and teaching English at night, I managed to take care of the house, our clothing, food everyday and of course the family. I was very busy but that was all right with me. I only had to learn how to arrange and budget my time so as I could fulfill all my responsibilities to my family. After all I realize that the husband’s treatment of the wife depends on how the wife is doing,” she says.
Armed with her own positive experience, Nene decided to set up the FMTA to give Filipinas a collective voice and for the spouses to interact with and support each other in their new lives in a foreign land.
“I was one of the founders and became president for over five years,” she says. “The FMTA is also well recognized by the Taiwan Government and has always been invited whenever they have some activities that are meant for foreign workers, foreign spouses and their children. We have had some forums on foreign spouses and invited resource speakers to give us insights on different problems we all face. We have suggested different approaches the Taiwan government could take for our sector. We have conducted English classes for the children of our members, and have motivated our members and their children into joining regular activities like in the church.”
Hotline for abused spouses
Because many Taiwanese men have had to look to foreign brides for their spouses, the Taiwanese government has put up measures to prevent abusive marriages.
Nene knows these by heart.
“The government provides a hotline (113) that is open 24 hours (in 5 languages—English, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Cambodian, Thai) to answer calls for help.
They also have a toll-free line (0800-088-885) for Foreign Spouses Protection Counseling, also for 24 hours. They are always ready to help the callers and to collect evidence to help them with their cases. They also have counseling hotlines in five languages.
Lawyers in every district around the country are available to help victims of domestic violence, to pay the medical check-up and help provide temporary shelter. If the victim is to live alone, she will be educated on how to live a new life and to find a new job for herself.”
“The foreign wives who became victims of maltreatment are authorized to apply with the court for a restraining order. This will restrain the actions of the violent husbands and guarantee the safety of the victims. They can also apply for the custody of the children and require the husbands to return their personal documents. If there is any court case, the victims are allowed to extend their stay until the case is finished.”
The government has also published some books, magazines, and pamphlets for the foreign wives so that they would know what to do in case any sort of problem occurs. “In fact, the ministry had contacted us to publish some rules on sexual abuse and domestic violence in our newspaper. They are all in Chinese and we had to translate everything in Tagalog and English,” she says.
Services for OFWs
The language barrier is one of the most difficult hurdles for Filipinas to overcome, according to Nene, as is the need for them to be gainfully employed if their families cannot live on just one income. But by and large, she says, the FMTA members have had successful marriages because Filipinas are traditionally very caring and family-oriented, traits that Taiwanese men appreciate.
To date, with Nene as mother-hen, welfare cases involving Filipinas married to Taiwanese are at a zero-level rate, based on the assistance-to-nationals report of the Commission on Overseas Filipinos.
But marriage to foreign nationals and living abroad is not a bed of roses, Nene is quick to assert.
“That is why the FMTA is there as a support group for all of us who have made a new life in Taiwan,” she says.
Nene is also quite active in ensuring the welfare of OFWs in Taiwan to the extent that sometimes her own home is used as a half-way shelter for distressed Filipinos. She is also quite used to calls during ungodly hours from her compatriots who seek her advice and help in dealing with employers and personal problems, or to give job referrals.
She publishes and edits her monthly newspaper distributed free to Filipinos, financed by advertisements from Philippine and Taiwan firms that service the OFWs’ needs.
The Migrant provides OFWS with news from the Philippines and information on new developments and government policies that affect them. It also features advice columns and self-help articles, and snippets and photos of the goings-on in the Filipino community in Taiwan, aside from the ubiquitous Filipino showbiz chismis.
“This venture is now my full-time career, and it is really no joke to have a monthly publication that is relevant and meaningful to your readers. Aside from contributions, we also do our own staff research on the Internet to get articles that would be of interest to readers. So far, circulation is growing and so is the number of our advertisers that help defray the cost of publication and printing,” she says.
Nene is preparing for the possibility of her eventual retirement with her husband to a home in Cavite. - Reuben Lim, Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 24, 2009