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The secret father of President Sergio Osmeña & forebear of John Gokongwei, Jr., Gaisanos, Gotianuns

Chinese immigrant tycoon, philanthropist and Cebu Chinese community leader Don Pedro Lee Gotiaoco.

It is a wise child that knows his own father.  —  Ancient Greek poet Homer quotes

MANILA, Philippines - For centuries, many official histories of prominent families in politics and other fields have had “secret” fathers whose identities were not acknowledged due to children having been born out of wedlock. More so here in the Philippines because of the strong Catholic society or for other reasons like fathers who were members of the then socially marginalized Chinese minority.

I have written years ago — perhaps even one of the the earliest to write — that the father of the late incorruptible and good President Sergio Osmeña, Sr. was to have been the 19th century “rags-to-riches” Chinese immigrant tycoon, philanthropist and Cebu Chinese community leader Don Pedro Lee Gotiaoco.

On June 26, the descendants of Gotiaoco will re-bury his remains at the Gokongwei family mausoleum in Manila Memorial Park, where four generations of the Go clan are buried. The remains were transferred here after the original tomb was excavated out of its original site in the rural countryside of Fujian province, southeast China due to a new government project in the area.

Business leader John L. Gokongwei, Jr. told this writer: “I hope our entire clan and my children will remember Gotiaoco and his legacy, his life of struggle and traditional Confucian values, that we shall always honor his memory and give our respects to him.”

Gotiaoco’s own father Go Yi Xia was the first family member recorded to have sojourned to the Philippines during the early reign of Qing Dynasty’s Emperor Xian Feng (1851 to 1861). He eventually returned to their home village of Khitang in Jinjiang county (also called Chingkang in Hokkien) of Fujian province.

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When asked to comment on reports that his great-grandfather Gotiaoco (the Chinese name is “Go Bun Tiao” in the Hokkien and pronounced “Wu Wen Tiao” in Pudonghua or Mandarin)  had sired Cebu’s great leader President Osmeña, Gokongwei said he couldn’t comment on that since he’s not a historian. But he added that he had personally seen company records of Gotiaoco that show that he had helped finance the education of the future president.

The future president’s mother Juana Suico Osmeña was a Chinese mestiza. The brilliant Chinese mestizo Sergio Osmeña later married Estefania Chiong Veloso, a Chinese mestiza daughter of the Chinese tycoon Nicasio Chiong Veloso. When the first wife died, Osmeña later remarried Esperanza Limjap, a Chinese mestiza daughter of Manila Binondo Chinese tycoon and philanthropist Mariano Limjap.

Apart from supposedly having sired the patriarch of Cebu’s preeminent political family, and a revered statesman who fought for Philippine independence, Pedro L. Gotiaoco was also the forebear of several other prominent families — the Gokongwei clan, the Gotianuy clan, the Sy-Gaisano clan and the Gotianun clan of Filinvest Group and East-West Bank.

John Gokongwei, Jr. is a great-grandson of Gotiaoco, his grandfather having been the eldest son and his father, John Gokongwei, Sr. having been the eldest grandson. If the Gos were a royal clan and under the ancient system called primogeniture, then Gotiaoco’s eldest great-great-grandson and heir is JG Summit Holdings president Lance Yu Gokongwei.

Another branch of Gotiaoco’s descendants is the Gotianuy branch, with grandson lawyer Augusto Go, now head of the University of Cebu, which is reputedly the biggest educational institution of higher learning in southern Philippines. Augusto Go once served as vice mayor of Cebu. Augusto’s father and Gotiaoco’s son the late Manuel Gotianuy was the pre-war Republic of China Honorary Consul to Cebu and also elected president of the Cebu Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Another branch of Gotiaoco descendants is that of his daughter Modesta Gaisano, whose husband was surnamed Gaisano but whose Chinese surname was Sy. Modesta’s sons built the dynamic retail and shopping mall chains from southern Philippines to other parts of the archipelago — David Gaisano, whose son Joseph Gaisano is boss of White Gold, Inc. of Cebu; Stephen Gaisano whose family owns Gaisano Country Mall of Cebu City; Henry Gaisano, whose family owns Gaisano Tabunok, Gaisano Capital South and others (this side of the Gaisano family had further divided into the Benito Gaisano and Eddie Gaisano groups); Victor Gaisano whose family owns Gaisano Metro in Cebu City and others plus having a son who tied up with the Ayala Group for department stores like Market Market in The Fort. Like his uncle Atty. Augusto Go, Joseph Gaisano had once also served as Cebu City Vice-Mayor.

The Gaisanos have also become philanthropists, top leaders of the Cebu Chinese community and have exemplified their forebears’ traditional Confucian values.

When this writer asked John Gokongwei, Jr. to comment on his cousins the Gaisanos, he said: “The Gaisanos are very hardworking, talented and very business-oriented. I used to call their grandmother Modesta ‘lao a-koh’ or ‘old aunt,’ and she used to call me by our family’s nickname for me, I-ya. She was very friendly and a good person.”

Last but not the least, Pedro Gotiaoco brought his second brother named Goquiaoco to the Philippines to join his firm called Gotiaoco Hermanos (Spanish for “Gotiaoco brothers”). Gotiaoco had another third brother who was highly-educated as a Confucian scholar or Mandarin, had come to the Philippines for a short period, but he died young. Gotiaoco’s second brother Goquiaoco was actually a half-brother, his grandson is the prominent Philippine business leader Andrew Gotianun of the successful Filinvest Group. After World War II, old-timers in Cebu told this writer that Andrew Gotianun reportedly inherited a lot of real estate and considerable capital from his family. His wife Mercedes Tan Gotianun helped him built up the Filinvest real estate and banking empire.

The immigrant entrepreneur and philanthropist Pedro Gotiaoco not only exemplified the traditional Confucian values of hard work, frugality, discipline, integrity and xiao-sun or filial piety of total obedience to elders and reverence for ancestors, he was a visionary who established several remarkable families who have helped Philippine national development.

During his lifetime, Gotiaoco took care of his relatives, donated to his ancestral hometown as well as to his adopted place of Cebu. He was a generous community leader, helping start Cebu’s Chinese hospital and other charities. Spanish colonial government records also show that he was once Cebu’s top taxpayer. During the anti-colonial revolution when a lot of Cebu businesses were burned and many fellow Chinese traders became homeless, Gotiaoco aided and sheltered them. After Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s 1911 revolution triumphed in China against the Manchus’ corrupt Qing Dynasty, Gotiaoco supported the new republican regime by investing in government bonds. He was a philanthropist also to the less fortunate of Cebu.

There are said to be about 1,000 descendants of Pedro Gotiaoco still alive in the Philippines and overseas. The life of Pedro Lee Gotiaoco is one of the most inspiring immigrant “rags-to-riches” sagas in the history of Southeast Asia.

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