Stop scapegoating the Tsinoys
(The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2019 - 12:00am

I am saddened that someone of Manong Frankie Sionil Jose’s stature could misunderstand the Tsinoys and the role, influence and impact of the Tsinoys in all aspects of Philippine life. I don’t doubt Jose’s love of our country but he’s been misinformed and misguided about our intense love and loyalty to the Philippines and equally intense pride in our ethnic Chinese heritage. We are Tsinoys or Tsinong Pinoy, Chinese Filipinos whose blood may be Chinese but whose roots grow deep in Philippine soil and whose bonds are with the Filipino people.

Even a quick breeze through history books would have shown how the Philippine economy came to a standstill during Spanish times after disastrous events like massacres and mass expulsions of Chinese. Spanish authorities had to entice the early Chinese back because of the services they provided and the needs they met.

During the American occupation, the Chinese Exclusion Law was applied to our country. Only merchants and sons of merchants were allowed entry. Thus, among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines was unique in not having a Tsinoy blue collar working class. But the enterprising Chinese opened sari-sari stores all over the country, from the remotest mountains to the farthest islets, making life easier for the Filipino clients whom they served.

After the darkest period of the Japanese occupation, it was the Chinese who, without waiting for reparations, started rebuilding their businesses, without which the Philippine economy’s recovery would have been much much slower.

It was in the immediate post-war era that saw the Yutivo patriarch going door to door in his kariton, piled with small hardware items, offering simple repairs to houses. He had the hammers, nails, small pieces of corrugated iron sheets, wood and plywood he needed for the repairs. Through sheer hard work, sacrifices and sweat, Yutivo saved and saved and saved and became the first distributor of General Motors in the Philippines.

It was also in the post-war era that saw the late Tatang Henry Sy opening up his tiny ShoeMart in Carriedo early in the morning and closing it late in the evening. His contemporaries recount the usual sight of Sy in his faded t-shirt stacking the boxes of shoes, serving the customers himself when necessary. There were no Sundays and holidays off for him to help his wife Fely take care of their young children. In fact, before the kids were even tall enough to reach the sales counters, they were already working in the store during vacations.

And who hasn’t heard of John Gokongwei and his trusted bicycle plying his wares all over Cebu to support his mother and siblings when his dad died?

Mr. Jose, you are a fiction writer. What I shared with you are not fiction but true stories of heartbreak, sweat and tears behind every pillar that spelled the success of our Tsinoy businessmen.

True, they “exploited” every opportunity provided by the Philippines in order to earn money to support their families. And for each successful opportunity they “exploited,” thousands (now millions) of Filipino families benefited in terms of downstream businesses and employment.

Without the Chinese-Filipinos who didn’t pull out their capital during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, our economic growth would have been much slower. Without the enterprising Tsinoys who went into small-scale manufacturing when the retail trade was closed to them by virtue of the 1954 retail trade law, Philippine industrialization would not have grown as fast. Textile vendors in the Divisoria-Ilaya area pooled resources to build the first textile mills. Small enterprise shoe sellers, T-shirt and candy vendors pooled resources to build the shoe, T-shirt, candies and confectioneries factories. Yes, the retail trade nationalization was a crisis, but the Tsinoys again “exploited” the opportunities provided by that crisis and their action moved Philippine industrialization forward much faster.

Those, Mr. Jose, are the true stories behind the success of the Tsinoy businesses. What they earned, they plowed back into the Philippine economy. They provided employment for Filipinos, otherwise, we would have double the eight million overseas Filipino workers we have now.

Why begrudge, denigrate and punish the Tsinoys for their success and the wealth produced by that success? Why be inhospitable to excellence? Other countries boost their economic achievers up. But here you want to put them down? You know who will suffer most if this happens.

It is a figment of your imagination to conclude that the Chinese Filipinos now control 80 percent of Philippine businesses. The Tsinoys are mostly in the visible buy and sell businesses and that perhaps is the source of the myth behind the Tsinoys’ economic dominance. The Philippine government and the established old Filipino families and new Filipino players still own the bigger share of the Philippine economic pie. However, you should not begrudge the Tsinoys their share of the economic pie. When their share grows, it is the Philippine pie that grows bigger and it is the Philippines and Filipinos who benefit from this bigger pie.

The Tsinoys have not been silent on the South China Sea issue. We recognize that there is a dispute and we stand with Filipinos in laying claim to our sovereignty over the disputed islands. But, unlike the hawks in our midst, we will not support war mongering and threats of going to war with China. No matter how great an improvement our defenses have, we still are not equipped to go to war with anybody – China, the United States or any other country. We have learned well the wars of our fathers and know that war is never an answer to any political dispute.

It is irrational and downright insensitive and dangerous to bring up the Vietnam boat-people crisis and foment mistrust and violence. Envy, stereotypes, misguided threats and scapegoating have no place in civilized discourse.

Our brother Filipinos have learned to accept their Tsinoy brothers as integral and inseparable parts of Philippine society.

There is no sense to make us Tsinoys the collateral damage in the South China Sea disputes or for that matter in the proxy supremacy positioning between China and the United States. We stand with the Filipinos as we have been one family in ancient times and even more so in modern times. We only have one ship and we sink and swim with that one ship to which we all have a duty to keep afloat. - TERESITA ANG SEE, Founding President, Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran and Executive Trustee, Kaisa Heritage Center

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