The Tsinoy Billionaires

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Mar 11 2015 11:42 PM | Updated as of Mar 12 2015 07:42 AM

1.75 trillion pesos and counting

There is bloody reality as in gruesome genocidal massacre and romance as in poetic justice behind all that great wealth!

With ability and skill, determination and persistence, these Filipinos of Chinese ancestry and ethnicity have earned it, deserve it and deserve to enjoy its rewards in whatever legal manner they please.

Part of that personal joy is the right to enhance that wealth further either for selfish reasons, in the service of nation and countrymen, a mix of both or just happily dissipate it.

The pride of ownership over the challenge and onus that accompany such material fortunes find fulfillment in expressing gratitude for the opportunities only their adopted country could have made available. I find no cause to doubt that such is indeed the case.

Such gratitude can be exercised in various forms or justifications but it is most exemplary when it is crowned, in the ultimate, with the practice of unequivocal loyalty to their Philippine nationality.

There is also now no doubt that it is indeed the norm today regardless of the presence of an international content in some of their investment portfolios. If such investments happen to be in the country of their birth, such is also an expression of gratitude, although I would categorize it as one of subsidiarity.

It is neither an aberration nor a diminution of national fealty but a self-fulfilling strategy of investment, the recognized source of which is the Philippines, and in the final analysis, when all added up, still forms part of their Philippine wealth.


The profound presence of Chineseness in Philippine life is exemplified by the emergence of the descriptive coinage of the term “Tsinoy.” It is in reference to “Chino” being the old Spanish appellation for the Chinese. (The other term being “Sangley.”) The Chino who also happens to be a “Pinoy” (the shortened nickname for a Filipino ) or vice versa, brings about “Tsinoy.”

To me, it has become a term of endearment, with a hint of humorous frivolity to which the Filipino is heir. Tsinoy is a whale of a difference from the earlier condescending “Intsik” and its derogatory permutations unacceptable in polite company.


Of planet earth’s billionaires, 11 are from and of the Philippines; 1 is brown; 1 is Spanish mestizo. Another has Chinese blood in his veins. The rest of the 8 are of pure Chinese ethnicity. Of the latter, 5 were born in Fookien, China; one is HK-born--all naturalized Filipino citizens. The last 2 are Philippine-born.

For certain, the immediately succeeding generation will already be all Filipinos by right of birth not by naturalization.

As of the end of 2014, Forbes magazine estimated the combined wealth of these “Tsinoys” to be some US$39.4 billion or PhP 1.75 trillion.

What is hardly ever mentioned in our schoolroom history lessons is that although separated by centuries from the advent of Malay and Indonesian immigrations (from whence the brown Filipino is extracted) which ethnicities predominate in the country, the fact is that the Chinese have also been part of and in this archipelago for a long, long time.

The presence of the Chinese, and therefore the beginnings of the Tsinoy, can actually be traced to events centuries before Spanish colonization. Because of the natural mixing of bloodlines over the centuries, pigmentation has ceased and ought never to define who and what is Filipino.

Being of an older and of a more mature culture, simply seeking to better their lives away from the seeming economic barrenness in the countries of their birth, willing and very able to eke out life’s sustenance and growth, they find themselves a noteworthy minority in their destinations.


And like the Jews, the Chinese in the Philippines, having attracted enmity and hate, were exploited, extorted, discriminated upon, restricted, segregated, expelled and abused. Their ‘otherliness’ and “seemingly irreconcilable cultural differences” were deemed additional justifying reasons for reprisals upon this minority when they rebelled against continued oppression.

If Philippine history is replete with blood and gore, it is not only because of war and revolution but likewise markedly because of ugly genocide committed against the Chinese by indigenous inhabitants in the service of Spanish colonial authorities.

The very first of this recorded blood lust occurred in 1603. Around 23,000 slaughtered. While Spanish accounts depict these as “Chinese uprisings” or even “premeditated treason,” it is in fact Spanish-ordered retaliation for the Chinese rebelling against harsh treatment.

This was to be repeated in 1639, to punish conscripted Chinese labor in the opening up of frontier lands in Laguna who rebelled against harsh treatment and persecution. Spanish and Chinese sources indicate another 25,000 to 30,000 murdered.

These atrocities committed as reprisals were to be repeated in 1662, 1686, 1744 and 1762 interspersed with periodic expulsions. Over the centuries, six massacres claimed over a hundred thousand lives!

Notwithstanding, the Chinese kept returning and oftentimes with Spanish authorities consenting by reason of indispensable need. Perhaps, it is innate self-confidence and faith in a future that is ultimately to be had in these islands that they stayed, eking out livelihoods wherever available and in whatever form of humbling but gainful servitude.

By reason of its fertility as an endowment of geography and climate, the indigenous peoples were given to mere subsistence economy by way of crude agriculture and fishing. Thus, they were content but to foreign eyes, it was indolence.


The foundations of Philippine economy were provided by the Chinese artisans and skilled labor in response to needs of colonial enclaves and the opportunities presented by the galleon trade. These are carpenters, furniture craftsmen and masons, bakers and tailors, butchers, barbers and herbal druggists; smiths and shipwrights, shoemakers and sailors, farmers, jewelers; soap and sugar manufacturers, coolie labor, merchants and traders, etc. etc.

The Chinese presence in our ancient midst was not only very prominent; they had become indispensably substantial participants in every fact of industry that ensued. It cannot be denied that more than any other ethnic group that have come to these shores, it is the Chinese who crafted much of the advancement of Philippine commerce. Can anyone ever imagine what the Philippines would have been like without the Chinese element?

Yet the depredations were to linger. Subjected to insulting condescensions; discriminatory higher taxes in the Spanish era and restricted travel to the provinces; during times of war and calamities the brown populace have always looted Chinese shops; immigration and naturalization procedures were made tediously lengthy and expensive subject to shakedowns; prohibition from retail trade and the practice of certain occupations was even legislated.

Kowtowing docility aside, the Chinese by hook or by crook have reacted to provocations by surviving through a combination of superior acumen and astuteness aided by evasion of some laws, profiteering and even bribery, willingly becoming ‘milking cows’ of predatory politicians in exchange for protection, oftentimes from the police and taxing authorities. But no more. And no more, as it should be.


Imagine the enormity of the combined total employment their enterprises provide. It is the irreplaceable anchor of national economic productivity. And they know it!

Without much ballyhoo, they are now also heavily into social services through charitable foundations. As an avowed expression of faith and gratitude, they have branched out into the field of education. Through resolute expansion of their investments, they have come to own at least five of the largest private universities serving the country’s continuing need for professional graduates.

Being Tsinoy bolstered by their well-deserved acquisition of citizenship and the size of their fortune ought now to shield them from political shakedowns and harassment. The usual practical necessity to hedge and secretly contribute monetarily to both sides of opposing candidacies can be safely retired.

An even more welcome occurrence, in many instances nationwide, is the open participation of Tsinoys in the rough and tumble of partisan Philippine politics as candidates on the hustings. How more Filipino can a Tsinoy be!


That big and influential Tsinoy elephant in the room, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce, in supportive tandem with the hopefully forthcoming Bangsamoro entity, must jointly take cognizance of another historical fact for its potential utility. Reviving olden antecedents may just bring about progressive opportunities, you know. And about which Muslim Mindanao has been beckoning.

In 1773, thousands of expelled and persecuted Chinese from Manila sought refuge in Jolo, Sulu. They joined and supported the natives in their struggle against Spanish colonial rule. It is a long recognized relationship that might explain today’s presence of Muslim Tsinoys in the south. Some are politicians, mostly are traders and who knows, their ranks may even include rebels ready to lay down their arms!

Bangsamoro must recognize that the achievement of peace and order in their midst, by their own hands, is the most effective inducement and incentive for investments to come and deliver the impetus to their long sought for economic deliverance and development. The Tsinoy billionaires, on the other hand, must recognize that that second trillion will be a just reward for enhancing human advancement in Muslim Mindanao.


[Disclosure: Sentiments expressed in this essay reflect respect and admiration, an inclination borne out of childhood and upbringing. I was exposed to Chinese merchant-tenants in family rental property who doted on me while I was a toddler and to their children, my playmates, who I regarded as kin. My closest grade and high school classmates were Chinese Filipinos. My very first gainful employment at age 18, as clerk/messenger, was in a Chinese-owned customs brokerage company in Binondo. My children from my first marriage are about an eighth Chinese.]

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.