‘Filipino’ is not a race: Another open letter to F. Sionil Jose

Lisandro E. Claudio

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My fear, Manong, is that your recent columns may contribute to a further racialization of a category that was never racial to begin with

Dear Manong Frankie,

I know you have received a number of open letters recently, but allow me to weigh in, as another friend and admirer, saddened by your remarks about the Filipino Chinese. 

Your articles and the debates surrounding them have surfaced fundamental questions about what it means to be Filipino. 

In your June 21 column, you remarked: “And to my long suffering countrymen – this is the only country we have – so be it then our country right or wrong; may we survive whatever travail will befall her and that, in the end, we – not they – will prevail.” Which, of course, begs the question: Who are your long-suffering countrymen? 

You note that your countrymen are those who only have this country. And the incendiary (“How I wish now that I had Hitler’s power and legions so I can rid this country of our internal colonialists.”) and inquisitorial (“What I ask of our ethnic Chinese who are Filipino citizens is simplicity itself: In a war with China, will you be on our side?”) tone of your article suggests that certain groups have a higher burden of proof when it comes to establishing their bona fides as Filipinos. Others, in particular, the Chinese, have another country. 

But why would they have allegiance to another country, despite citizenship, a long history of civic participation, and immense contributions to the Philippine economy? Is it because they happen to be racially similar to the citizens of the People’s Republic of China? The implication that race binds one to a state (and that state’s imperialism) is the reason why your articles have triggered cries of racism. For one can identify with one’s Chinese heritage, while deploring the actions of the Chinese state and the authoritarian Communist Party (CCP) that controls it. Consider, for instance, the citizenry of Taiwan, who are also victims of mainland aggression. Consider the pro-democracy dissidents within China itself, people like the artist Ai Wei Wei and, further back, the protestors at Tiananmen Square. They are all, naturally, Chinese, but despise the Chinese state as much as you and I do. 

And what about traitors you ask? Anyone can be a traitor. In fact, the traitorous ones have not been the Filipino Chinese. Was it, perchance, a Filipino Chinese businessman who set up a corrupt deal between the Chinese company ZTE and the Philippine government (last I checked, GMA is from Pampanga and not Fujian)? Are the politicos who want to whittle down our claims to the Spratlys in exchange for Chinese business concessions of Chinese heritage? Tsinoy businessmen, by contrast, reinvest most of their money in the Philippines and have helped engineer our current economic boom. 

If you want to unleash Hitler’s armies, unleash them against our traitorous politicians. Not an entire ethnic grouping. 

I reserve the term “genuine Filipino” for those who believe and work for the strengthening of our democracy, not those from one race. And in this respect, I have a strong ally: your idol, Jose Rizal. 

What I have learned from you, dear Manong, over our many conversations is that a return to Rizal allows us to settle the thorny questions about who we are. Writing to Bluementritt in 1887, Rizal explained that his friends were “creole young men of Spanish descent, Chinese mestizos and Malayans…” Despite the racial diversity, however, he concluded: “We all call ourselves ‘Filipinos.’” 

We all call ourselves Filipinos. Being Filipino, therefore, is a decision, a matter of calling one’s self something. Thus, to be part of this country means choosing to be part of a political project. In Rizal’s time, it was representation in the cortes and, eventually independence. In our time, it is the forging of an equitable, democratic state. 

Part of that democracy is racial equality. Just as it did not matter to Rizal if his colleagues were creoles or Chinese, it should not matter to us if our compatriots have relatives in Fujian or speak Hokkien. Rizal’s ideas inoculate us from the kind of racism informing, say, Malaysia’s bumiputra policy, which systematically privileges those of Malayan descent. 

I am proud to be Filipino because Filipino is non-racial. My fear, Manong, is that your recent columns may contribute to a further racialization of a category that was never racial to begin with. This is already evident when you look at the racist diatribes directed at Tiffany Uy, whose stellar accomplishment was disparaged because her Chinese heritage supposedly disqualifies her from being a “true” Filipino. 

Patriotism is a chicken and egg conundrum. You complain that the Filipino Chinese lack allegiance. I disagree. But if you want to ensure their allegiance, does it help that you single them out as a potentially traitorous group? That your rhetoric turns them into second-class citizens? The emergence of Chinese imperialism should not prompt us to exclude. On the contrary, it forces us to return to our inclusive beginnings. 

I look forward to chatting you about this in my next visit to your shop. 

With respect and admiration,


– Rappler.com 


Lisandro “Leloy” Claudio is a researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. He is the editor of The Manila Review

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