INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT STUDIES INSTITUTE

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Untold Stories of the Chinese Filipino Success

The successes of Chinese-Filipinos “Chinoys” that some “pseudo-experts” attempt to paint negatively are based on merit. Here are some of the factors, which many Western models of success have not been fully able to explain.

1. Their enterprises are based on real market competition, successful even in competition with multinationals.  Henry Sy Sr. did not block other shoe sellers.  Are the Tan’s Jollibee Chicken Joys or Gokongwei’s URC snacks being given advantages by the government?  George Ty grew in the finance industry, where there are no barriers to others.  Andrew Tan grew most substantially in real estate, serving the BPO market no one was courting, and built in 20 years entire cities out of idle areas.  Injap Sia popularized a native dish that other competitors also opened chains on, that enabled him to leapfrog into bigger industries.

2. Their fortunes are not based on government protection, land grants, licenses that bar others from making beer, generating or distributing power, operating TV stations or monopolies.  Some may have arguably been helped by early influence, but they prospered as competitive enterprises afterwards — unlike other players’ collapsed enterprises in steel, car dealerships, construction empires, utility and agricultural monopolies.

3. Chinoy companies make money by charging less and selling more — unlike profit maximizing multinationals and brands.  Just as in 1590, when the Bishop of Manila Domingo de Salazar wrote that the Sangleys worked harder, more creatively and produced goods at low prices.

4. Chinese in the Philippines, even from hundreds of years ago, applied themselves to the “unglamorous” industries and risks the Spanish and Filipinos did not want to take.  In the early 1900s, they cleaned toilets, cut hair, vended small items, did odd jobs, were derisively called “mambobote” (bottle collector),  “mandidiyario” (newspaper collector) ,  engaged in shopkeeping 360 days a year — so tired after 16 hours work days that they were caricatured as “intsik beho, tulo laway.”  They nevertheless prospered, as European and American colonial accounts show — their descendants intermarried, even became national heroes and Presidents of the Republic.

5. Chinese Filipinos become part of the country they live in, more holistically in succeeding generations, they are Filipino citizens, and their fortunes are Filipino — unlike the multinationals that regularly repatriate their dividends.  About half today marry Filipinos, contrary to what economist and Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod made an issue of.  Historically, a great portion of the leading Filipino nationalists at the turn of the century were the Chinese mestizos, who fought with the Filipinos against foreign invaders.

6. Self-reliance.  But more Chinese Filipinos gambled and failed or faded away than the successes we see today.  Gone are past tycoons in construction, banking, cooking oil, pharmaceutical, textiles, commodities and others.  Majority of founders started from scratch, had little education, could not speak well, and learned from the streets.  Although younger readers may have the impression everyone is well-to-do, people above 60 years old today will remember how Chinoys were looked down upon and made fun of, suffered discrimination, slept in small dark rooms and squatted.

Gokongwei traveled as a teen in small boats between islands; Andrew Tan woke up before dawn to walk to school so he could save on the transport fare and afford to have a merienda with his friends ever so often; Tankaktiong’s dad was an immigrant cook. There are many such inspiring rags-to-riches stories that more of our countrymen can learn from.  No banking loans were given by the major banks except by the community Chinoy banks and financing based on the lenders’ reputation for paying what they owe, delivering what they promise.  No signature was needed; neither an Ivy League nor Ateneo education was required — just good value proposition, reliability, word of honor.  Their companies today are publicly listed, which means any Filipino that wishes to join the enterprises, in their risks and rewards, may do so.  Join or compete; stop complaining!

7. Competitive, international, developmental.  These enterprises bring in the latest concepts, talents, systems.  They are the biggest builders of markets for Filipino products and services here and abroad.  Why are multinationals to be looked up to, but not Filipino enterprises?

8. Catalysts, high-risk takers.  They increase the pace of development, quality and access to goods and services, incomes, and employment of any areas they go to.  The correlation can be seen statistically.  Today, the new China migrants take risks and put up enterprises in dangerous areas or industries such as in Mindanao and Sulu that local Spanish, Americans, Chinoys dare not visit.

9. Philanthropy.  A cultural tradition is to always contribute back to the community and your benefactors, or the “virtuous cycle” of balances of all things in life will catch up with you.  Most people don’t know the massive extent of scholarships, infrastructure, facilities donated, and services provided by even small and medium businesses in aggregate, because it was a tradition to not publicize.  Apart from the billions that the Chinoy and other Filipino corporations donated and supported to enterprises during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Filipino Chinese Community Fund, or FFCCCII, distributed over P300 million of Covid-assistance, supplies, equipment to over 500 municipalities and over 100 hospitals and clinics.  These are apart from the aggregations from Kaisa, Anvil, Oishi and anonymous donors.  China philanthropists and her government donated over a billion more when supplies were not available in the Philippines. Billions are donated almost every year by and through different Chinoy groups.

10. Problems?  Yes, of course.  There are carpetbaggers just as there was the American H.S. who claimed to have bribed the entire Philippine government, and the US military who used to shoot children in the bases, impregnate countless women; arrogant party-going drinkers and molesters of a region in the ‘70s in return for access to oil; and Japanese Yakuza that turned Roxas Boulevard into a giant strip joint, exported 150 thousand guest relations officers or GROs, and ran Philippine offshore gaming operations, or POGOs, 20 years before the Chinese did, among others.

We have to control the misbehaviors of groups and obtain the benefits and friendships, remedy the mistakes and learn from as well as influence them, whatever their country of origin. And this include overcoming our own weaknesses.

Some supposed “nationalist-experts” like The Manila Times’ Lito Lorenzana or Philstar’s F. Sionil Jose continue to write allegations that President Rodrigo Duterte sides with Chinoy — Chinese Filipino — “oligarchs” “against” the Filipino people.  Historical facts, applied logic and verifiable current observations show why these are inaccurate.

Presuming President Duterte does favor specific businessmen, it hardly means he favors them in general above others.  He put pressure on a taipan and collected billions, and on a cigarette magnate, who was divested of his business and made to pay P25 billion — for the national treasury.  Just because he released US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton doesn’t mean he favors the Americans; his approval for Japan’s Metro Manila $11-billion subway project doesn’t mean he is especially for Japan.  While we may not agree with his decisions, we have to recognize politics is a complex act of balancing economics and political trade-offs with local geopolitics, health and education, social and other issues.

Mature policy discussion has to study net effects over multiple dimensions rather than to demonize or resort to name-calling.

To call Chinoy successes a group of rent-seeking oligarchs or to paint them as “un-Filipino” is to sow unfounded fear and racism that is directed at a very productive part of Philippine society — counterproductive to the cooperation we need to help the country recover and progress.

The success of the Chinese Filipino is a model to learn from, not to demonize.  We can benefit together, but step one is to stop wasting time on useless, endless debate, which is useful for vetting ideas against data.  But then, most of our time should be spent building our individual and national capabilities in the new “Reset” of technologies, markets, platforms that is happening now — so we can have independent choice, made by and for Filipinos.

Part of Series:
Pinoys and Chinese Benefit from Each Other

Chinese are Business Steroids

Ways forward on the Recto Bank fishing incident between China and the Philippines


George Siy is a Wharton-trained industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States. He is also the Chairman Emeritus of the dynamic Anvil Business Club and the director of Trade & Industry for the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (idsicenter@gmail.com).

Written on 2020 September 20.
Welcome to publish with attribution to Manila-based Think Tank IDSI Center.
**Also published in: https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/09/20/opinion/columnists/untold-stories-of-the-chinese-filipino-success/769888/

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