Sangley has Chinese roots, too

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Did you know that Sangley Point in Cavite City has Chinese origin? I must admit I did not know this part of our Philippine history that Sangley Point – the erstwhile American airfield – was once known, or called, as Xiang-li. This bit of Philippine history was shared to us by Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla who was our featured guest in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate. Roughly translated in Chinese Hokkien dialect, “xiang-li” means a tradesman.

Remulla traced the historical roots of Sangley a few days after he joined President Rodrigo Duterte in the inauguration of the P486.028 million airport rehabilitation project of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). President Duterte ordered the DOTr to construct the Sangley Airport to ease congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

But the provincial government of Cavite headed by Gov. Remulla has bigger and long-term plans for Sangley Airport. In fact, they awarded last week the contract for the Phase 1 of the Sangley Point International Airport Project to the consortium of Lucio Tan’s MacroAsia Corp. and China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC) Ltd.

The first phase of the project would build one runway and a 4.6 kilometer (km) Sangley-Kawit Connector Road at cost of about $4 billion. With timetable of construction from 2022-2023, it will have annual capacity of 25 million passengers. The next phase would cost about  $6 billion to construct two additional runways over a four-year period, with annual capacity for 75 million passengers. Thus, at the end of the project, there would be four runways at Sangley airport, with annual total capacity for 130 million passengers.

However, Remulla rued this project was also affected by the 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19. Hence, the contract is not perfected yet, Remulla admitted. Since there is no indication yet how soon China will ease their countrywide travel and transport lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, consequently, the Sangley project likewise faces slight delay.

Remulla grudgingly conceded the Sangley project takeoff will have to wait until such a time the top Chinese executives from the CCCC could physically be present here in the Philippines to sign the contract as required by their laws in Beijing.

“This is not just a project for Cavite but for the entire Philippines,” Gov. Remulla declared.

This early, Gov. Remulla announced his every intention to see through the completion of the Sangley airport project, hopefully six years from now. He is on his first term as the incumbent Governor of Cavite. He previously served for six years as provincial governor but gave way to his older brother, Crispin “Boying” Remulla who is now back at the House of Representatives serving the newly created 7th congressional district of Cavite.

Gov. Remulla showed his deep knowledge of Cavite’s history when he recalled to us the historical roots of Sangley Point. “Xiang-li started out as a trading post of the Chinese way back in the 16th century. In the 17th (century) when the Galleon trade started, the galleon trade did not begin from Spain to Manila but it was rather Cavite to Acapulco,” the young Governor fondly cited.

“So there was no direct trade link between China and Spain. So the Chinese will bring the goods to Xiang-li, then will trade there and then the cargoes going back to Acapulco would be full of Chinese silk, porcelain, and spices that they will bring back to the old (silk) road. So ever since the 17th (century), Xiang-li was the main gateway of the Philippines to the world,” he mused.

Right after World War II, Sangley was converted in the 1950s by the Americans into a US military base because Cavite City was totally devastated then. The city of Cavite before WW II, as he described it, looked like Intramuros with one big wall around it. The former US military base functioned as headquarters of the American Air Force Strike Wing that saw much action during the Vietnam war when US fighter planes refueled there until 1971, he added.

And from 1971 to 2014 after the US Air Force turned over Sangley Point to the Philippine Air Force (PAF), he said, it was used as the Strike Wing and Protection Wing for Malacanang. When mutinous soldiers in 1989 launched one of its bloody coup d’ etats against former president Corazon Aquino, he recalled, they used the WW II vintage Tora-tora planes that took off from Sangley Point.

A valiant trooper from the Presidential Security Group (PSG), Lt. Col. Danilo Atienza sacrificed his life in a kamikaze style crashing at the runway of the PAF plane in order to stop the mutineers from using Sangley to attack Malacañang. A few years later, his heroism was rewarded when Sangley Point was named after him as Danilo Atienza Airbase of the PAF. In 2014, the DOTr bought Sangley Point for P500 million from the PAF.

According to Gov. Remulla, Cavite prides itself not only as the largest province but is also recognized as the biggest contributor to the country’s per capita income at $4,000 annually to its five million resident population.

Like the original name of Sangley, the first name of the 52-year-old Governor also has family history origin. Jonvic actually stood for Juanito Victor Jr., after his namesake late father, ex-Cavite Gov. Juanito Remulla Sr. On a lighter side, the 6’2 tall Remulla disclosed his love for basketball games.

 In self-deprecating joke, he rated himself as lame in playing basketball. He pointed though to the University of the Philippines (UP) “Maroons” as his favorite basket team in the inter-collegiate competitions at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). A graduate of philosophy from UP, he considers himself as UP “Mirons,” or Tagalog pun that means someone who just watch at the sidelines.

With his long-term vision for Cavite, I don’t think Gov. Remulla will just watch and wait at the sidelines for the transformation of the Sangley project from its Chinese roots.


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