Rizal’s ‘rags-to-riches’ ancestor from South China

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PGMA IN JINJIANG CITY--President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signs the Guest Book after offering a wreath at the foot of the Rizal Monument in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province Saturday morning (October 28). Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, had roots in Fujian Province, particularly in Shang-Guo village. His great, great paternal grandfather was Domingo Lamco, \"Ke Yi Nan\" in Chinese, an early immigrant to the Philippines. Looking on are Lu Zhangong, Party Secretary of Fujian Province (extreme left) and other Chinese officials. (Dado Aguilar -- OPS-NIB Photo)By Wilson Lee Flores
QUANZHOU CITY, China–In the annals of the world’s top ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs, immigrant tycoon Don Domingo Lamco (Chinese name: ”Cue Yi-Lam,” also pronounced ”Ke Yi-Nan” in Mandarin) of Laguna province, the Philippines will eventually rank high in importance due to the greatness of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero who was his direct heir.

PHOTO: PGMA IN JINJIANG CITY–President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signs the Guest Book after offering a wreath at the foot of the Rizal Monument in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province Saturday morning (October 28, 2006). Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, had roots in Fujian Province, particularly in Shang-Guo village. His great, great paternal grandfather was Domingo Lamco, “Ke Yi Nan” in Chinese, an early immigrant to the Philippines. Looking on are Lu Zhangong, Party Secretary of Fujian Province (extreme left) and other Chinese officials. (Dado Aguilar — OPS-NIB Photo)

Five Rizal descendants made a historic homecoming to the hero’s ancestral village of Siongque (pronounced ”Zhang Guo” in Mandarin) in Losan district, Jinjiang City, Fujian province, south China last April 2, just three days before the ancient Ching Ming Festival when Chinese people traditionally pay homage to their ancestors.

Agence France Presse (AFP) said 10,000 people gave a grand welcome in Siongque. Many Filipino businessmen now propose the construction of a1.2-hectare Rizal park and museum in Fujian as ”symbols of the enduring friendly relations between the Philippines and China.”

In May 1998, this writer had lunch at the home of Rizal’s grandniece Asuncion Lopez-Rizal Bantug and told her it was possible to trace the hero’s Chinese roots. In February this year, businessman Manuel O. Chua and this writer successfully verified the roots of Rizal based on South China genealogical records and a 1913 book donated by the late Justice Roman Ozaeta (father of former PCIBank president Antonio Ozaeta) to the Philippine National Library. Authored by the American historian Prof. Austin Craig, the book ”Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot” gave the first Philippine verification of Rizal’s Chinese roots in the chapter on ”Rizal’s Chinese Ancestry. ”

Domingo Lamco had specified Siongque in Manila church records as his home village near Chinchew: ”Siongque Village of Fujian province indeed exists near the historic city of Quanzhou, which is pronounced Chuanchow, meaning ‘City of Spring.’” The rural areas of Jinjiang (now a city), Lamoa, Hui-Wa, Chio-Sai, An-Khue and others under Quanzhou are the ancestral places of 80 percent of the top Filipino entrepreneurs of Chinese descent.

Rizal’s eminent ancestors

Siongque was the rural ”barrio” where entrepreneur Domingo Lamco was born and educated. He was the 19th generation of the first Cua who settled in Siongque. The Cua clan of south China and Asia trace their origins 3,000 years ago to patriarch Chua Siok-To in the Yellow River basin of central China, in that area now called Henan province. Duke Chua Siok-To was the fifth son of the political genius who founded the Chou Dynasty and his eldest brother later became the king. This era was before the rise of a unified China under first Emperor Chin Shih Huang-Ti.

Descendants of Chua (also pronounced ”Tsai” in Mandarin or ”Choy” in Cantonese) include some of the world’s richest billionaires according to Forbes magazine– Taiwanese Tsai Wan-Lin of Cathay Life Group and Indonesian ‘Tobacco King’ Rachman Halim (Chua To-Hing) of the Gudang Garam Group. Another clan member was the late Philippine ‘Sugar King’ and philanthropist Antonio Roxas-Chua. Another heir of patriarch Chua Siok-To started the clan of Cua (pronounced ”Ke” in Mandarin, also spelled as ”Qua” or ”Koa,” of which Domingo Lamco and Dr. Jose Rizal were direct male descendants). Lamco was the founder of the entrepreneurial Mercado clan in Laguna and the great-great-grandfather of Dr. Jose Rizal.

From March 31 to April 7, this writer accompanied and acted as interpreter in South China to the five Rizal heirs–businessman Antonio ”Noni” Lopez-Rizal Bantug Jr., Leandro Bantug Jr. (whose father Dinky owns a top furniture firm and the MBA basketball team Manila Metrostars), Raul Jose Rizal Tan, Ricardo Consunji III and Ditas O. Consunji. Noni’s 78-year-old mother Asuncion is the granddaughter of Rizal’s elder sister Narcisa and author of two important Rizal biographies.

Lamco’s Village

The five Rizal heirs were accompanied by 200 Cua-Chua clan members from the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and China in the sentimental journey to the village of Domingo Lamco. The entire 5,000-population of Siongque Village and thousands of others from nearby villages lined all the streets for a grand welcome. There were nonstop firecracker blasts, the local school was closed, red banners filled the walls saying ”Welcome Home, heirs of Domingo Lamco and Jose Rizal from the Philippines,” a thousand small children in red waved flower bouquets, and ancient rites were held in two village temples. It was a welcome befitting an emperor.

Noni Bantug delivered a speech expressing hope that the memory of Rizal’s Chinese heritage would strengthen Philippine-China relations. Stanford-educated Ricardo ”Bombit” Consunji III (Chinese name: Cua Yeng-Liong), with Philbank director Francis Chua’s help in drafting his speech in fluent Mandarin, impressed the audience by speaking about his ”lolo” Jose Rizal. Rizal himself was fluent in the Chinese language and researched Chinese historical data referring to pre-colonial Philippines to debunk Spanish claims that the country had no early culture.

Bicolano trader Melanio Cua Fernando said: ”Our village had never seen such a grand celebration, not since 1948 when Bicolano tycoon Qua Chee Gan, another son of this village, returned to Siongque to donate the local school.” In the pre-war era years to the pre-martial law 1970s, immigrant Qua Chee Gan was the ”rags-to-riches” trader who became Philippine ”Copra King.” Based in Tabaco, Albay, Qua vigorously pushed Philippine copra exports and was also a leading philanthropist.

Qua was so well respected for his ”shinyung” or trustworthiness that company drafts with his signatures were considered then more valuable than cash by traders in the Bicol region and Quezon province. One of his agency managers based in Daet, Camarines Norte was the late Fernando S. Vinzons Sr., top Bicolano businessman and father of former BIR Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons Chato.

Merchant, mayors, martyr

Domingo Lamco was a fearless entrepreneur who ensured not only the survival of his descendants, but also their socio-political leadership as highly educated ilustrados. Lamco achieved business success despite cruel odds, since the Spaniards persecuted the Chinese and Chinese mestizos, unfairly requiring them to pay higher taxes and even at times massacring them.

Persecutions toughened the Chinese traders, forcing them to become resilient and resourceful. Baptized in the Catholic church of Manila’s Parian Chinese ghetto in June 1697 at age 35, Domingo Lamco later moved to Biñan, Laguna, here he prospered and became a leader of the Chinese community. To free his heirs from the Spanish regime’s anti-Chinese racist policies, Lamco gave his clan the new surname ”Mercado” (meaning ”market” in Spanish) so that his heirs would not forget their Chinese merchant roots.

Rizal’s ancestors were survivors of the Spanish colonial regime’s racism and despotism. Domingo Lamco wed Inez de la Roza, daughter of the successful immigrant trader from Chuanchow named Agustin Chinco. Lamco’s son Francisco Mercado and grandson Juan Mercado married Chinese mestizos; both served as distinguished mayors of Biñan for a total of five terms.

Juan’s wife Cirila Alejandra was the daughter of an immigrant trader and Domingo Lamco’s baptismal godson Siong-co. By the time of Rizal’s father, their branch of the wealthy clan moved to Calamba, built the first stone house in the whole town, owned the first piano, the first carriage, owned a flour mill, a dye factory, increased landholdings and sent their children to the best schools. Jose Rizal Mercado had to change the family surname again before entering Manila’s Ateneo to avoid Spanish persecution since his elder brother Paciano Mercado was close to the martyred Filipino priest, Jose Burgos. Rizal himself died a martyr in 1896 at age 35, becoming a hero whose powerful ideas and moral courage helped liberate the Filipino nation from Spanish oppression.

It is fitting that much of Asia now honors the immigrant trader Don Domingo Lamco of Laguna. His ”rags-to-riches” career may not yet be as well-known as those of immigrant billionaires Li Ka-Shing of Hong Kong, Liem Sioe-Liong (Sudono Salim) of Indonesia, prewar ”Rubber King” Tan Kah-Kee of Singapore, John Gokongwei Jr., Tan Yu or Henry Sy of the Philippines, or even that of 19th century empire-builder Jose Cojuangco I of Tarlac, but Don Domingo Lamco’s legacy of courage and excellence embodied by his heir Dr. Jose Rizal has immeasurably enriched Philippine national life.

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