Last August 6, President Rodrigo Duterte spoke of a "building" in a Fujian university being built in honor of his mother, Soledad Roa Duterte. It's yet another reason why he must visit China soon, he said.
"Kaya may building siya doon, Soledad, for ‘yung mga foreign students na niyayaya nila to study in China (She has a building there, Soledad, for foreign students they invite to study in China). So I’m going there to inaugurate that," said Duterte.
It's in Fujian Normal University where you will find "Soledad College," which now hosts a number of Filipino students, thanks to the generosity of Chinese tycoon Jose Kho.
A real estate tycoon who is also known by his Chinese name Xu Minliang, Kho provided $20 million in seed money to put up Soledad College in 2017, according to a press release on FNU's website, dated May 30, 2018.
The college is named after Soledad Duterte, who is said to descend from Chinese immigrants from Fujian and who was a teacher in Davao City.
FNU identifies Kho as an alumnus (graduating class 1976) and vice-chairperson of its board of directors.
In a write-up about Soledad College's first batch of Filipino masteral students, Kho is described as the "scholarship sponsor of Soledad College."
The Filipino students, according to the write-up, thanked Kho and promised to be "messengers of China-Philippines friendship and help exchanges in science, technology and culture between two countries."
They were welcomed into the college last March 26.
Four months later, Soledad College was offering 50 scholarships to Filipino students interested in obtaining masters degrees in Business Administration, International Business, Tourism Management, Materials Engineering and Radio and Television.
An ABS-CBN news report promoting the scholarships said FNU wanted 30 of the target 50 scholars to come from Davao City, the hometown of the Dutertes.
Soledad College and its scholarships for Filipinos are only the latest in a string of goodwill gestures from Kho.
He and the group he founded, Friends of the Philippines Foundation (FPF), donated a P500-million drug rehabilitation facility in Bukidnon. It was inaugurated in August 2018 with Duterte himself as guest of honor.
Another Chinese business closely associated with Duterte, his former economic adviser Michael Yang, also helped fund the center and is a member of FPF.
So appreciated is Kho by the administration that he is the first foreigner to be conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu, Kamagi medal, a recognition created by Duterte to honor individuals who support his advocacies (Yang was present at the ceremony, based on Palace photos).
An FNU press release also said Kho contributed to the "successful resolution of the 2010 Hong Kong hostage incident."
Back in April 2018, Duterte made a historic public apology for the crisis that happened during the term of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
Kho and FPF enjoy access to Duterte. They even treated him to a Peking duck lunch at a Beijing shopping district during the President's first official trip to China in October 2016.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Manila in November 2018, Kho was part of the exclusive guest list for the Malacañang state banquet held in Xi's honor.
Jose Kho and son
Kho and his son Kitson Soriano Kho have met with Duterte in Malacañang at least twice, once in the company of Ramon Tulfo, who was eventually named Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China. (READ: Chinese businessmen flock to Duterte's Malacañang)
Kitson Kho is chairman of a company gunning for a massive reclamation project in Manila Bay, with Chinese partners.
His Hong Kong-based the Kho Group and UAA Kinming Development Corporation want to build a 407-hectare New Manila International Community, a smart “city within a city.”
It was greenlighted by the Philippine Reclamation Authority and then-Manila mayor Joseph Estrada. It's not clear if new Manila Mayor Isko Moreno will be just as receptive but he had said reclamation projects are not a priority of his administration.
Last March, Kitson Kho was given Philippine citizenship through Republic Act No. 11242. The bills for this were introduced by brothers Bukidnon 3rd District Representative Manuel Zubiri and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Duterte approved Kho's Philippine citizenship on March 11.
Representative Zubiri's explanatory note for his bill says that though Kitson was born in China, his grandfather is Filipino and Kitson himself has lived in the Philippines since 2006.
It also mentions Kitson's reclamation plans.
"He has spent the last 12 years in the Philippines, arriving in 2006 and staying here to fulfill his job as CEO of Am-Phil and UAA Kinming, companies that contribute greatly to the Philippine economy, and create numerous job opportunities for Filipinos, with greater prospects of job creation ahead once their reclamation project in Manila Bay commences," says the document.
And while it was his father who was most visible during the inauguration of the Bukidnon drug rehabilitation center, the note says Kitson donated P700 million to fund the facility. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.