With the celebration of Chinese New Year, it is a perfect time to look deeper into how the Chinese greatly influence our economy. When we see “made in China” nowadays, we usually relate that to cheap items, low quality, fake goods and imitations. But this article will not focus on the Chinese from the mainland but the Chinese who began their businesses generations ago and have children who are now Filipino-Chinese and successful businessmen themselves.
I used to wonder before why Chinatown was in Binondo and not in other parts of Manila. A deeper study revealed that the Spanish authorities (because of previous attempt by the Chinese to seize power from the Spaniards since the Chinese outnumbered the Spanish colonizers by 20 to 1) began to restrict the activities of the Chinese immigrants and confined them to the Parían near Intramuros. Since they can hardly find employment and were not allowed to own land, most of them set up small businesses or served as skilled artisans to the Spanish colonial authorities. They also worked as stevedores and porters during the early Spanish period, and that is why there are many Chinese near the ports. Binondo later on became the central business district before Quezon City or Makati became business districts. Before World War II, most of the big banks from Britain and the United States were in Escolta in Binondo, and was called the “ Wall Street of the Philippines” (source: Wikipedia).
Even during my banking days with several banks before, Binondo branches manage some of the largest deposits among bank branches in the Philippines. Other bank branches, aside from valued Binondo clients, consist mostly of Chinese clients. Most of the big businesses in the country are now controlled by Chinese businessmen. And the younger generation, who are Filipino-Chinese (unlike their parents, who are mostly pure Chinese) are starting to take over. Some of them were educated in North America, and their dominant language is English instead of Chinese.
Filipino and Chinese culture is integrating, gradually. It is not an assimilation but an integration. In other words, the Filipino-Chinese are adopting Filipino culture but, at the same time, retain much of the Chinese culture. One of the Chinese traits greatly influenced by Filipino culture pertains to close family ties. Most big corporations ran by the Chinese are usually family corporations, where the children occupy the top executive positions. Respect for the elders is evident in Chinese families, which is why when the patriarch decides on something, the children obey without question. Thus, if the father decides that it is the daughter who will take the helm instead of the traditional son or sons taking over, the siblings obey without question. Successors in the organization who are the sons and daughters of the founder are given time to study the business and begin training by starting from a low position in the company.
I think this is the also the reason corporations owned by Chinese families continue to grow in the hands of the next generation Chinese. They also acknowledge the importance of nonfamily members to help run their corporation as president or executives of the business are professionals and experts in their fields.
They are also willing to start from the bottom, whether in their own business or employed outside of their business and learn the trade before they assume more responsible positions in their companies.
There was a time when indigenous Filipinos were eased out of their businesses because of bad management (which is why most of the big conglomerates in the Philippines are owned by rich Chinese families). Because of the prompt training of their children, the successors are also successful in managing the business and make the company grow even bigger. They are willing to pay Filipino professionals to help them and learn all they can from them.
Humility and living a prudent life are values worth emulating by Filipinos. However, the new generation of Filipino-Chinese is fond of luxury items and branded stuff. Filipino-Chinese are the big buyers in luxury stores and can afford regular vacations abroad. Still, humility and prudence, while no longer widely practiced, is still evident in the life of the younger generation Filipino-Chinese.
The Philippine economy cannot deny that the main influencer of growth are the Chinese or their Filipino-Chinese peers or even the pure Chinese second-generation owners. In the 2017 Forbes List of billionaires, eight of the top 10 billionaires were either Chinese or Filipino-Chinese.
Thus, the annual nonworking holiday celebration is a fitting tribute to our Filipino-Chinese or Chinese residents, for they are a major force who greatly influence our economy. Kung hei fat choi!
Wilma Miranda is the managing partner of Inventor, Miranda & Associates and CPAs; board of director member of KPS Outsourcing Inc. and Treasurer of Negros Outsourcing Service Inc.; and adviser of the Media Affairs Committee of Finex. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions.