TAIPEI, Dec 6 (IPS) - As a rule, Father Bruno Ciceri never
solemnises marriages among his flock in Taiwan, which consists
largely of young migrant workers of the Roman Catholic faith
from the Philippines.
Why does the Italian priest forego the performance of an
important social rite? He does not want to be party to what is
jokingly referred to on this industrial hub and island republic
as "Taiwan Love Marriages", the course of which can be as
unpredictable and as devastating as the typhoons that sweep
"More than 75 percent of the 300,000 odd migrant workers in
Taiwan (of whom 80,000 are Filipinos) are here on false
identities and their real ages and marital status are
uncertain," Ciceri told IPS.
Though they are illegal and attract severe penalties, false
identities are convenient to everyone.
For one, they allow workers a way to circumvent laws that
prevent the extension of stay in this country beyond three
years. For another, employers save time and money on training
new workers and also have an extra handle on them in case of
disputes, Ciceri said.
Complications do arise. "Recently I had to send back to the
Philippines the body of a woman who came here on a passport
issued to her sister-in-law and died - now the sister-in-law is
officially dead," he said.
But false identities apparently are also conducive to
encouraging a tendency toward the high-risk behaviour that
leading sociologists say Asia's young adults are increasingly
At an international conference here in late November on 'Asian
Youth at Risk' sponsored by the Taiwanese government and the
East-West Centre in Hawaii, academics warned of increasing
rates in smoking, drinking and extramarital sex among young
Although the specific problem of migrant workers swarming to
prosperous Taiwan from the East Asian neighbourhood was not on
the agenda of the three-day conference, which ended Friday,
participants took the opportunity to say that their concerns
about high-risk behaviour involving migrant labourers as well.
"The situation of young migrant workers as a particularly
vulnerable group calls for special attention," said Eddy Hasmi,
director of Adolescent and Reproductive Rights Protection group
and a framer of migrant worker policy in the Indonesian
"Sending countries seem interested solely in the money that
migrant workers repatriate," lamented Michael Tan of the
University of the Philippines and a health activist, addressing
Tan's colleague and researcher on adolescent sexuality, Corazon
Raymundo, said that being away from home - some 800,000
Filipinos leave for overseas work each year -- takes away the
two important "protective factors" of family and religion for
young people of both sexes.
Raymundo's academic propositions including one that holds that
one kind of risk-taking soon leads to "multiple risk-taking",
is discernible at a Filipino watering hole here, called 'Combat
Zone' because it was once patronised by American soldiers on
rest and recreation from the Vietnam War.
"Filipinos who come to Taiwan smoke, drink and have messy
affairs far more than they do back home - and they all claim to
be single," said migrant worker Jackie Sotelo through the smoke
haze and jazz music at the Manila Pub, on Combat Zone.
The vast majority of Filipino overseas workers here are in
factory work, although many of them do not get the jobs they
had signed for and up working in poultry and piggery in the
rural areas. Filipino women workers hold jobs both as factory
workers and as domestic workers as well.
Father Cicero thinks that compared to Filipinos, Thais and
Indonesians -- the two other major migrant groups here -- are
far more likely to indulge in high-risk behaviour. He
attributes this to the fact that most Filipinos are likely to
have finished schooling and many are graduates.
The priest's observations tie in with research findings trotted
out at the conference that schooling is another important
protective factor that works against high-risk behaviour.
He says Filipino men generally stay away from commercial sex
workers, preferring instead to seek out women from among their
own kind. But there is also lesbian relationships that emerge
among Filipino women workers.
Sotelo agreed with this, while saying the women were "really
bisexual" and quick to drop women partners when they found
suitable male partners. For example, Sotelo added, "I nearly
committed suicide after my girlfriend left me for a man - but I
have found someone else."
According to Cicero, lesbian relationships are common because
they work as a protective factor against unwanted pregnancies
and the quick termination and deportation they invite, while
satisfying a natural need for intimacy especially in a place
away from home.
At St Christopher's church, not far from the bright neon signs
of 'combat zone', Sister Ditma Luz Trocio said Taiwanese laws
that forbid migrant workers from getting pregnant are a serious
violation of human rights.
"If pregnancies and abortions continue to occur, it is at least
partly because of the lack of privacy in the unsegregated
dormitories in which migrant workers are housed in even by some
well-known transnational companies," Trocio said.
Sundays at St. Christopher's are festive occasions -- and a
venue for what many of the academics at the November conference
may categorise as high-risk behaviour.
Said Diosdado Lopegu, who runs the Migrant Worker's Concern
Desk at the church, "The church is a place for making social
contacts and deep religious convictions are usually missing. "
According to Lopegu, migrants are generally not practising
Catholics where they came from and their faith is not enough to
protect them here. "But at least if they keep coming here on
Sundays we can gradually modify their behaviour," he pointed