What on earth is one of the world’s most acclaimed Filipinas doing on the street?
She is a lawyer by profession. Although not educated in the US (she earned her law degree from the University of the Philippines), she holds the distinction as the first, and still the only, Asian woman to pass the New York State Bar Exam.
She is businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis, the mind behind the phenomenal success of Reginald Lewis, her late husband, who was the first African American to hit the US$1-billion mark in assets. She recounts the story in Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald F. Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire.
In October 2011, Mrs Lewis was honored by the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee with the Trailblazer of Democracy Award for her continuing support toward women in public service. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who attended the awarding ceremony in Manhattan said, “Loida Lewis is one of America’s leading Filipina women.”
Schumer recalls that, 15 years ago, “when there was a desperate shortage of nurses in this country (the US), and the talent of Filipina women to come here and be nurses was being blocked by the same kind of non-thinking approach to immigration that too many exhibit in Washington today, Loida led the charge to change. There are now thousands of Filipina nurses in America, and particularly in New York.”
Noted for being, perhaps, the richest Filipino living outside her home country, with a net worth of US$600 million, is there anything else Lewis aspires for?
Lewis now sits on top of the US$2- billion TLC Beatrice International Holdings, a business empire of 64 companies that is present in 31 countries. The lawyer transformed herself into an ice cream marketer in Spain and the Canary Islands, a leading producer of potato chips in Ireland, and a prime beverage distributor in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Thailand.
But it is seems that her preoccupation of the moment transcends her business interests. She is in fighting mode. And she is very angry.
In May this year, together with around 75 fellow Filipino Americans, Lewis could be heard chanting, “We want China out, now!” right in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York.
The highly respected Lewis was shouting at the top of her voice, calling the attention of the Chinese government, “Mga walanghiya! (You’re shameless!). So you want to be a world power? Then be a citizen of the world and follow the rule of law!”
She was referring to the standoff between the Philippines and China, which started on April 8 when the Philippine navy spotted Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough Shoal. Her anger intensified all the more when Beijing asserted its claim over the shoal as part of its territory.
Lewis did not stop there. Two months later, as the chairperson of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), she held a press conference in Manila to launch her ‘Boycott Made in China Products’ campaign.
To which China’s state-controlled media fired back, calling on the Chinese to boycott the retail convenience stores that TLC Beatrice supposedly operates in Chengdu, Xiamen, Guangzhou, and Suzhou. The stores turned out to be wholly Chinese-owned, having already been sold by Lewis to her business partners several years ago.
Lewis is a firm believer that “faith and prayer are the best ammunition we Filipinos have against China.”
She admits, “War is not good for anybody, especially the Philippines.” But she points out, “We don’t have China’s massive warships but we have houses of worship. Prayer is our greatest weapon because we are a people of faith.”
The woman of great affluence and influence (who has US Secretary of the State Hilary Clinton on speed dial) is now being attacked on many fronts.
An invitation letter, purportedly signed by Lewis, for the prayer services organized by USP4GG on August 21 this year circulated over the Internet. It was poorly written, containing many obvious errors. The letter was addressed to the Philippine Consul in New York, Mario de Leon, who was erroneously called “Ambassador.”
The invitation said that Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was on 53rd St and Fifth Avenue, instead of 50th or 51st St and Fifth Avenue. The name of the occasion was its worst mistake: The “29th anniversary of the Death of President Noynoy Aquino.”
Did Lewis really write it? Is her secretary blame? Or is some group responsible? It is hard to tell because Lewis has many targets on her back these days.
While invoking her faith in her anti- China campaigns, Lewis also openly stands against the Catholic Church when it comes to the hotly debated Reproductive Health Bill. As she puts it, “Men should not decide—especially the Catholic Church and the hierarchy—on women’s right to reproduce. We have our own individual conscience.”
Former Philippine Senator Francisco Tatad gives Lewis this unsolicited advice: “I would urge her to be a little more careful when attacking the Catholic Church just to show she’s on the side of P-Noy, Obama, and Hillary on reproductive health, which the US Secretary of State says includes access to abortion.”
This makes Lewis not only China’s Public Enemy No. 1 but the Catholic Church’s too.
Print ed: 10/12