AS early as the reign of King Philip II, whose minions named the Spanish colony after him in the 16th century, Chinese traders had already found the archipelago exchanging silk and porcelain for the products of the sea and forests of these islands. Ships by the hundreds every year called on the port of Manila to supply the Spanish and Filipino community with food and clothing. Many of the Chinese settled in the country servicing the requirements of the colonizers as well as the Filipino elite. In the Parian district, now known as Binondo or Chinatown, there were tradesmen of all the trades and crafts. There were also to be found physicians and apothecaries.
It did not take very long before the Chinese controlled the distributive trade. Chinese traders multiplied like amoeba during the Spanish period. Such was their domination of the retail trade of the islands that the Philippine government at a much later date had to nationalize the retail trade.
It will be recalled that the galleon trade, the trilateral trade that involved China, Mexico and this country preceded the so-called new Silk Route that the Chinese talk about today.
These Sangleys were the ancestors of the present day Taipans and the so-called Chinoys many of whom have Filipinized their Chinese name like an ancestor of mine by the name of Uy Ma Guan whose descendants have adopted the Spanish surname Herrera.
Perhaps it is accurate to say that the Chinese in this country have been pretty much integrated into Philippine society. While it is true that the Spanish colonizers occasionally attacked the “Sangleys” outside the walls of Intramuros, our country has never experience race riots that have occurred in neighboring countries.
What soured RP-Sino relations after the Second World War was obviously the Communist Party victory in China which was perceived as a threat to Philippine democracy. The Karagatan incident where Chinese arms destined for Maoist rebels in the Cordilleras was discovered confirmed these fears. The charm offensive launched by the Marcos couple culminating in that dramatic visit of the aging Chinese dictator by Imelda did not entirely dispel the cold war between the two countries but it did initiate moves to the gradual lifting of the bamboo curtain dividing the two nations. Today China is fast becoming the biggest trading partner of this economy.
Also today a large number of Filipinos possess Chinese genes. Moreover we have adopted Chinese culinary arts and have made Chinese dishes like pancit and siopao part of our diet even if Italian spaghetti (which came from China) now competes fiercely with the Chinese staple.
It is not inaccurate to conclude that today the Philippine economy is controlled by the descendants of the Sangleys. Indeed the Chinese descendants have graduated from purely trading activities to real estate finance and even manufacturing. If one were to look at the first dozen billionaire in the country one easily notices that their surnames indicate their Sangley ancestry. It will also be discovered that this country’s trade with China has overtaken that of the United States.
Without fear of contradiction we predict that our trade as well as economic relations with the economic superpower just north of the archipelago will be going by leaps and bounds as the Asia-Pacific century begins to unfold.
As a result of the Spanish-American war at the turn of the 20th century opinion crystallized in the US that there was a window of opportunity in the seizure of Spanish colonies in the Western Pacific. As a result, Admiral George Dewey Commander of the US Far Eastern Squadron crushed the derelict wooden-hulled Spanish Armada in Manila Bay, paving the way for the annexation of the Philippines in 1898. Although Spain had sold its former colony for the “handsome” sum of $20 million or some $3000 per island on the average, the Filipinos resisted the American invasion causing the loss of some 300,000 to 600,000 casualties on the side of the natives in a war that lasted some three and a half years. Henceforth, these islands would become the forward position of the US defense system in the Far East.
Far more politically astute than the overbearing “Castilas” – the US unable to completely overrun the archipelago co-opted the illustrados and delivered a limited governance of the islands. While the Thomasites disembarked from their ships and promoted universal education which the Spaniards has not bothered to do, the well-heeled Filipinos entered Ivy League schools. Armed with college degrees, they were more than willing to serve the Commonwealth government under US tutelage. Some became more “papista que el papa” as the Spanish saying goes, earning them the moniker of the USA’s “little brown brothers.” It did not take very long for the illustrados to become economically entrenched under a flourishing colonial economy tied to the “motherland” with its bountiful quotas for agricultural products like sugar, coconut oil, hemp, etc.
In exchange for these bounties, the illustrados bartered the nation’s sovereignty in terms of economic parity rights for American businessmen and basing rights for the US military.
Under US tutelage our economic relation was bilateralized, our trade redirected to the US mainland thanks to the free trade agreement and the pegging of the peso to the then almighty US dollar. Subsequently, amendments to both economic and political arrangements allowed this country to break away from the bilateral arrangements that tied this country to the US
In fairness to the nationalistic elements in Philippine society, RP-US bilateral relations did not escape criticism and opposition. The “pros” versus the “antis” in Quezon’s time attest to this, but it was obvious that the economic clout of the “sugar bloc” won the day for the pro-US bloc.
The rest is history. The “Rigodon de Amor” gave way to the Foxtrot and Filipino schoolchildren were singing God Bless America – land that I love! Thousands upon thousands of fruit pickers from the Ilocos, Filipino students and professionals settled down in the States and today some of their descendants occupy important positions in local government units.
Today this nation is caught in the middle of a power play in the Asia-Pacific pitting two superpowers. The fear is that if these two elephants fight the grass under where we are located will be trampled upon. The hardliners do not want to talk to China but as many want to engage the Asian super-power. Obviously with the Chinese encroaching on our shores, we just cannot allow this big neighbor to keep digging in our garden. We have to put up the big sign – This Is Private Property Stay Out! There are others who feel that we should reach out across the fence engage our neighbor and discuss the issue of trespassing in a good-neighborly fashion.
In the meanwhile, Chinoys together with their Filipino friends and relatives greet each other Kung Hei Fat Choi hoping that the year of the monkey will bring good fortune to all.
To accommodate the celebrators of the Chinese New Year, the government officially declared a non-working holiday. These days in the living rooms in the evening many Filipino families are glued to the television sets as the kids watch their NBA stars perform in the hardcourt and the elders watch the Republican and Democratic presidential debates.
Indeed almost half a century of Christianity under Spain, half century of universal education and governance under US tutelage plus the diaspora that has sent some ten million Filipinos abroad has developed in the Filipino psyche an international mentality.
This makes him feel at home in any nook and cranny. His facility to learn languages makes it easy for him/her to adopt to a new environment.
Given the above, we feel sure that the new administration using creative diplomacy and goodwill can find the means to strike a modus vivendi with neighbors and allies in aid of promoting a zone of peace and prosperity in our part of the world.
Even as local shops are bursting at the seams with cheap Chinese products and our plantations try to supply bananas to every Chinese household, thousands of Fil-American sailors sail on US men-of-war while a few million Filipinos find their homes in their American dreamland.