VOICE FROM THE SOUTH
By FR. EMETERIO BARCELON
This country of mine is heavily influenced by China and ethnic Chinese. That is a fact but even before we go to the Philippine situation, let us consider the world situation. They say that when the first kingdom of China was overthrown, many of the remnants of that kingdom were thrown away to the barbaric coastlands. Their language was called Hokien (or Fukien). It is a more developed language than those they left behind in the northern part of China, having nine tones to the four of Mandarin. From there they spread around the Pacific rim together with Cantonese, another coastal group. For the islands of Formosa, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the dominant Chinese group was the Hokien speakers. The Cantonese went farther away to Hawaii, the Americas, and Canada.
Except for Taiwan, the Chinese did not move to dominate their environment. They coexisted with the dominant settlers. They were noted for their expertise in trade, their industriousness, and initiative. The Chinese traders visited the islands of the Philippines long before the Spaniards came. They left their mark with the clay pots and other trading products that they carried, such as silk and silver. What motivated them to trade we do not know but trade and sail they did.
In the Philippines, they were always considered outside traders or foreigners. Their industriousness made them indispensable to the Spaniards. When they became too influential, they were confined in cantons like the Parian in Manila. They revolted against the Spaniards several times and one of its consequences is the settlements in Binan and San Pedro on Laguna Lake. A memorable Chinese revolt was one that overtook Antipolo and the burning of the image of Our Lady of Antipolo. The image did not burn and that is a reason for the Chinese of Manila having a deep devotion to Our Lady of Antipolo. This includes the family of my grandfather who made a pilgrimage once a year to Antipolo.
Right now the Chinese or those of Chinese descent business men dominate Philippine business. They took over from the Spanish and American moguls. After the Japanese war there was a vacuum and the industrious and initiative spurred local Chinese to fill the vacuum. At present the richest and most influential businessmen in the country are mainly Chinese. These, however, consider themselves Filipino. When they visit China they find that they are foreigners. This influence seems to be true all over the Pacific rim. In the 1880s the USAdiscriminated against the Chinese as a people that are hard to assimilate. As late as when I went to the US in 1946, the quota for Filipinos was 250 since we were considered part of the Chinese triangle.
My great-grandfather went back to Kulangsu, China. He left behind my grandfather and a sister of his as teenagers in the care of some relatives. Though penniless, they managed to study at SantoTomas. Then, by the Providence of the Lord, my grandfather won something like a fourth prize in a Hong Kong lottery and another in a London lottery. This initiated him into business and he was in everything traded at the time — rice, sugar, coconut oil, tobacco, and anything else. He was quite successful in almost anything that he touched but in true Chinese tradition. For him girls did not count. He spoke to my mother, his only child, in Tagalog and Spanish but not in Hokien. So when he had a stroke, my mother lost almost everything. When she married my father, he was able to salvage something. To remain within the purview of the Filipino Chinese community, you have to know Hokien and have studied in a Chinese School. I have a relative whose only capital was that he spoke Hokien. He started a store and most of his wares were sent to him on consignment. His children went to good schools and some of his grandchildren are wealthy businessmen today.
Why did the Hokien people move or traded from Amoy to all over the Pacific rim? They were not persecuted in their land which, compared to most Chinese areas, was relative fertile. The only reason that comes to mind is that they were just adventurous and innovative. Without them the Pacific rim would have been poorer.
The expert in this is Dr. Victor Limlingan who wrote his doctorate in Harvard Business School on this subject. He was the loved teacher of marketing at the Asian Institute of Management but now working with DMCI Holdings after having established Regina Securities which he left to his spouse and children to run. He has published his book on the Chinese diaspora on the Pacific rim.