The Chinese Connection II
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2020 - 12:00am

When I first met Wong HowMan, the peripatetic Hong Kong writer explorer, he had just been from a meeting with some local Filipino-Chinese. When he told them that he was going to see me next, one described me as anti Chinese. HowMan said, “I hope he likes chinese food” for that is what we had that evening.

I really got to appreciate Chinese cuisine when we lived in Hong Kong in the early 60s and my wife even learned how to do some of those delicious dishes. I’ve thought a bit about that statement that I am anti Chinese, all I can say is that I am very pro Filipino.

Looking back, I realize that I did admire several Filipino Chinese and held their friendships preciously. I cannot name them all but I’d like to mention first and foremost the late Go Puan Seng, publisher of the Fookien Times, who I met in the 50s. We reminisced a lot about pre-war Manila and also the Japanese Occupation. He told me of his difficulties in those times and how he managed to survive with the friendships that he had made. I think I was a bit instrumental in his writing down those memories. When the book finally came out, it was launched in my bookshop.

I fondly recall the Yuyitung brothers, Quentin and Rizal with whom I shared several meals as well as conversations on Philippine politics. Quentin wrote for my journal, Solidarity, it was with Rizal that I had many enlightening insights into our history. As he said, I haven’t been named Rizal for nothing.

Perhaps, the most impressive Filipino-Chinese I met was John Gokongwei. He was introduced to me by Washington Sycip. He was a great man; he was not only Filipino, he was Cebuano and his Tagalog was much better than mine.

I had culminated against the rich Chinese and Filipinos who were nothing but landlords and he said as businessmen they made easier money that way. What is important is what they did with their profit. Gokongwei was happy doing business. He said perhaps I was happy too, writing. But then he said, writing is not enough or just making money. “What gives me greatest joy” was not how his businesses thrived but because they gave so many people a living.

Before he died, John Gokongwei left a big portion of his wealth to philanthropy. Two other Chinese businessmen that I appreciate are Carlos Chan and Ramon Sy. Carlos for his vision and for extending his business in Asia and Africa flying the Philippine flag in all his establishments. He is in a sense a diplomat representing this country’s entrepreneurial talent to the world. He is also in a very special position; because of his factories in China he can present our case to the Chinese leaders.

Ramon Sy can neither write or speak any Chinese language because his parents died when he was a child and he grew up poor in a small Cavite town. Self-made he became a successful banker; he revived the moribund Coconut Bank and as one of his admirers define him, a very decent banker. Every so often Ramon and I meet to exchange notes on the health of Filipino society and economy. He’s a realist and optimist, aware of the deep faultlines in our society.

Of the younger people, I appreciate, Joji Tiu who, an indefatigable social worker and the writer Shirley Lua, who is perhaps the most active member of PEN, the writers organization.

Joji is involved in several social projects, helping farmers in the Cordilleras, ministering to the youth caught in the Marawi conflict and assisting the military in its social projects. 

China is such a vast country; the emperors did not really want additional territory but they wanted their neighbors to be subservient to their power, for which reason they paid obeissance to the Chinese emperor with tribute. The Chinese already had communities in the Philippines before the Spaniards came and intermarried with the earliest Filipinos; this is why we have Moros with Chinese family names.

In the provinces, they were engaged in agricultural trade. All came to this country with nothing but hardwork and by exploiting the land and the people, they have become the new oligarchy – a great social and economic leap in two generations. There is so much social interaction and many are now leaders, in public office.

In Manila before World War II for instance, they were junk dealers and peddlers of food stuff. These jobs are now in the hands of Filipinos. Today we have no Chinese who drive jeepneys, or are peddlers.

We must always remember though that China officially uses the overseas Chinese to promote China’s interest.

Will the Filipinos of Chinese ancestry advance China’s hegemony or promote Philippine development?

John Gokongwei exemplifies the Filipinizing Chinese who is not only Filipino but proudly Cebuano. Unlike most wealthy Filipinos whether ethnic Chinese or not, he had broken away from the traditional conservatism of the old entrepreneurs who had the mentality of landlords. Ditto with Carlos Chan who has built food factories in Southeast Asia, and now in South Africa, all of them earning and at the same time employing Filipinos. China’s development cannot be stopped. But it is wrong for this giant to take advantage of our weakness and violate our sovereignty and to flood as well this country with as well with drugs that will weaken if not destroy the Filipino spirit. With such challenges we have to rely more on our genius to survive and recognize the importance of the Filipino-Chinese and their contribution to this country because this is where they were born, were they have relatives and friends, and perhaps, in all probability, where they will also die.

I am glad that my novel Mass has already been translated into Mandarin. Three Filipino Women and my short stories are now being translated and scheduled for publication in China. I hope, the Chinese will get to understand us better and appreciate our aspirations as well in building a just and sovereign nation.

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