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Filipino Reverend Nilo spreads spiritual riches to Taiwan

The China Post--“When I first heard about this assignment, I was very hesitant,” says the Rev. Nilo, “Taipei is near, just a two-hour flight from the Philippines.”

“You are near, but you are so far.”

Straight out of seminary, Leonilo “Nilo” Mantilla was appointed to the Taipei parish of St. Christopher's Church.

What made him think twice was not just differences in food and language, though these mattered. It was also the fact that Taipei, which does not always show its best face to dark-complexioned visitors, can be an alien and difficult place to be.

Migrant Workers' Concern Desk

Today, he's halfway through his second term in Taiwan. For four years and six months, Nilo has tended a flock of mostly Filipino but also Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese migrant laborers.

Many of them attend his Sunday mass: St. Christopher's holds five services to meet the demand.

Nilo also directs a general assistance center that operates from building's second floor. Here at the Migrant Workers' Concern Desk (MWCD), he provides legal and professional aid to those who are likewise near-but-far away from home.

'Something is wrong'

His defense of the laborers is basic.

“(If) I am here as a worker, I should be protected because my coming here is legal, by normal process,” he says. “But something is wrong.”

A soft-spoken man, he suddenly flames up as if striped by a poker, when turning to the problems of his parishioners.

“For example, if a certain domestic worker is hired to care for a sick woman, most likely she will stay in the room with the woman. How about if the husband is still very active? So can you imagine the abuse. Not only physical but also sexual abuse.”

Then there is the problem of document confiscation. It's unlawful to hold a worker's ARC and passport — but in Taiwan the practice is prevalent, he says. Later these documents are commonly used to blackmail the worker into giving up his salary and other compensation, just to return to the Philippines. Or the documents are used to hold a worker hostage within an abusive household.

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Handstand performer tours Taiwan to inspire
This photo taken on Dec. 27, 2011, shows Fr. Nilo Mantilla in his parish of St. Christopher's Church in Taipei.

(Akie Ang, The China Post)

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