Why F. Sionil Jose may just be our Donald Trump, Part 2

Patricio N. Abinales
Why F. Sionil Jose may just be our Donald Trump, Part 2
Even during the early to mid-1980s, in the late Marcos era, when capital flight was rampant, most of the taipans stayed invested in the Philippines

This is the second part of my essay expressing solidarity with Chinese-Filipino friends who were hurt by the nasty questioning of their national loyalty by a bookshop owner named F. Sionil Jose. (READ: Why F. Sionil Jose may just be our Donald Trump, Part 1)


The central issue of F. Sionil Jose’s splenetic tirade against Tsinoys is economic. He believes that there is a high probability that Tsinoys can sabotage the economy by moving their monies to China once war between the Philippines and its big communist neighbor breaks out.  All the more then must Tsinoys publicly reaffirm their allegiance to the nation, and the oath must include a promise not to smuggle their wealth back to their country of origin.

This observation is not only bogus, but it is also ignorant of certain basics.

70 years of wisdom have failed to give us an insight into a couple of fundamentals. The most obvious is capital itself. Jose condemns Tsinoys for investing Philippine pesos in China. (This is laughable: you do not invest pesos in another country; you invest using the country’s coinage or the American dollar). But his ignorance becomes more glaring when he forgot one fundamental practice in the art of investing: whatever profits you earn are either reinvested or, if not, remitted back to the home country.

No major business breakthrough

The level of Philippine investments in China is the lowest  (US$2.72 billion) when compared to the United States ($11.14 billion), Taiwan ($10.9 billion as of 2012);  the European Union ($64 billion as of 2013), South Korea ($3.23 billion), and Japan ($3.39 billion). Moreover, Tsinoy investments in China had not been doing well. A 2008 RAND noted that “[Lucio] Tan sold his Shanghai brewery because of large losses. San Miguel closed down one of its two breweries in Guangdong province, which failed to make a profit in 2005. Some businesses owned by Filipino-Chinese millers have closed.” 

The report did end in a positive note. It stated that “some Filipino investors are taking the long view, that it might take 10 to 20 years to build a strong presence in China but that manufacturing their products in China is more cost-effective than in the Philippines and would enable them to access the domestic Chinese market.”(“The Philippines,”  in Evan S. Medeiros, et. al. Pacific Currents: The Responses of U.S. Allies and Security Partners in East Asia to China’s Rise. RAND, 2008, p. 109). But it is over 7 years now, and there has not been any major business breakthrough in China; the Philippines remains kulelat (last) when it comes to exploiting China’s cheap labor and huge market.

We likewise do not know the ethnic breakdown of these investments. Henry Sy and Lucio Tan were said to lead the way, but we have no idea how much Tsinoys, non-Tsinoys, and Chinese mestizos invested.  Jose claims that Tsinoys will move their monies once war erupts, but it is equally possible that non-Chinese Pinoys would also flee with their wealth, perhaps not necessarily in China, but definitely in places other than home.

Tsinoy investments

In fact, it is the reverse that we are witnessing: rich mainland Chinese have left or are planning leave their country bringing their monies with them. The Barclay and Ledbury Research survey showed that 47% of mainland Chinese millionaires plan to emigrate elsewhere, while 20% were not yet sure. The reasons? Environmental pollution and their belief that Western education was far better for their children. A Tsinoy investor watching this plight will have strong second thoughts of sending his or her investments to China.

Additionally,  the only way to prove that some Tsinoys will defect to China once our pathetic navy starts firing its ineffective guns on Chinese patrols, is for the bookshop owner to show if this had happened in the past. Well, he in his infinite wisdom may just end up eating crow.

Temario Rivera’s book Landlord and Capitalists: Class, Family and State in Philippine Manufacturing (1994) was an attempt by this left wing professor to look at our “national bourgeoisie.”  Instead, Rivera’s data showed the Tsinoy companies were one of the groups that invested heavily on domestic industrialization. This was happening as the Cold War heated up, with China and the United States fighting a war in South Korea. There were reports of illicit trade between Hong Kong and the Philippines, but the legal companies kept their investments within the country. Even during the early to mid-1980s, in the late Marcos era, when capital flight was rampant, most of the taipans stayed invested in the Philippines as reported by the Far Eastern Economic Review.

More recently when the Catholic Church sought for donations to repair and renovate the Manila Cathedral-Basilica for the Pope’s visit, two of the largest donors were Ramon Ang, former President of San Miguel Corporation (P50 million) and Metrobank Chairman George Ty (P20 million). Instead of investing in a new mall, another subsidiary of the beer giant, or a new branch of the country’s second largest bank in China, these two taipans gladly extended a helping hand to the Church itself – an institution which almost 200 years ago, ironically, was instrumental in the persecution of the Chinese under Spanish rule.

Remember Squadron 48?

A final non-economic point: crisis points are fascinating periods because one gets to see who really would make an emphatic stand. 

When World War II broke out, Tsinoys immediately organized the Wha Chi guerillas (better known as Squadron 48) and established a base in Pampanga. They were a highly admired group for their fighting ability such that the Japanese was forced to move 10,000 in the Mt Arayat area to destroy them. Here was bravery and patriotism at their best. Now when martial law was declared and the Marcos dictatorship began the process of destroying the lives of a generation of Filipinos, did F. Sionil Jose display the same militance? There is no record of this passion other than this fictional piece that – till today – pales in comparison to the grand sweep of the imprisoned Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

One can go on and on impugning with concrete data this racist bookshop owner. But he has been eviscerated enough. Perhaps in years 71 and 72 of his wisdom-accumulation, he might learn to consider educating himself on one of humanity’s eternal virtues which appears to continue to elude him: humility. – Rappler.com


Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW



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