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Amid tension in Philippines, a Chinese enclave of powerful, influential businessmen thrivesMinnie Chan23 November 2015Despite the tension between China and the Philippines, many ethnic Chinese businesspeople continue to thrive in the Southeast Asian country, building unofficial ties between the nations.One of the latest to hit the headlines is Filipino-Chinese tycoon Lucio Tan, who owns the Century Park Hotel in Manila, where President Xi Jinping stayed during last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.Tan, a famed patriot who joined other dignitaries at Tiananmen Square in September for Beijing’s military parade to mark the end of the second world war, is just one of many powerful ethnic Chinese members of the Philippine business community.Chinese families have prospered in, and influenced, the country. Many who arrived during Spanish rule (1521-1898) were Cantonese and Fujianese. Mostly male, they were encouraged by the Spanish government to convert to Catholicism and marry indigenous women.On October 3, 1603, Chinese workers and Chinese-Filipinos organised their first of many uprisings against the Spanish government’s heavy taxes and other harsh rules. The colonial government responded with a heavy hand. Between that first uprising and 1857, the Spanish killed more than 100,000 Chinese, according to documents kept by the Kaisa Heritage Centre.Rufino Ko Pio, managing director of the Grand Family Association of the Philippines, said their ancestors’ painful history during the Spanish and American colonial periods deterred Chinese from entering politics.As a minority comprising just 2 per cent of the population, ethnic Chinese control about half of the country’s economy. Despite the seeming imbalance, the Chinese community is popular - partly because of their widespread involvement in charity.Manila-based political columnist Ong Bon-han said the Chinese community’s tradition of the “three treasures” - village schools, volunteer fire-fighting brigades and medical missions - had helped build relations.“Services of our ‘three treasures’ have covered local Filipinos for decades,” Ong said.Another Chinese success story is that of Lim Tua-co, a Chinese military official during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) who founded the country’s oldest distillery - the Destileria Limtuaco.In 1850, Lim sailed to the Philippines from his hometown in Xiamen, Fujian province, with his family’s secret formula for medicinal liquor. The formula was designed to help sick and post-natal women recover. He set up a distillery in Manila’s Chinatown and his business grew as local Chinese labourers embraced the tonic.To take Philippine citizenship, Lim changed his name to Don Bonifacio Limtuaco, according to his fifth-generation successor, Olivia Limpe-Aw.“Such a name sounds more Spanish, which would help the future development of a business,” Olivia Limpe-Aw said.Lim’s nephew Lim Chay-seng took the helm of the family business in 1926, starting the family’s groundbreaking concoction of Chinese medicinal liquor and Western wines. The company added distilled spirits, whiskies, brandies, herbal and sweet wines to their line of medicinal liquors and adopted Western management and marketing skills with the third- and fourth-generation successors, James Limpe and Julius Limpe.But the Chinese community also kept ties with their culture, forming clan associations to help each other raise funds to set up Chinese schools.Ang Tiak-toy, chairman of the Kho Family Association of the Philippines, said the economic interdependence between Chinese and Filipinos was highlighted during a visit by Philippine President Benigno Aquino and his mother, former president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, to their ancestral home in Fujian in 1998.The Cojuangco family is one of the Philippines’ most powerful and influential, controlling several banks and large trading companies in the country. The first generation of the Cojuangco clan, Kho Kuan-coo - Corazon Aquino’s great grandfather - was a carpenter from Fujian.
Francis Chua, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes the tension between the two countries over the South China Sea will not raise anti-Chinese sentiment in the Philippines.“Compared with other Southeast Asian countries, the Filipinos are very friendly with the Chinese,” he said.
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