More than three centuries of Spanish rule and five decades of American occupation have left an indelible mark on the Philippines, especially on relations between ethnic Chinese and native Filipinos.
True to the divide-and-rule dictum, both Spaniards and Americans separated the ethnic Chinese from the Filipino mainstream. Both colonizers, as well as the Japanese rulers, blamed the Chinese for whatever economic ills had befallen the country—even when these were brought about by their own failures of administration.
The Chinese are perceived to be business-minded, good in mathematics, rich, industrious, thrifty, dynamic, and persevering. But undercurrents of racism and latent racial animosity have always been beneath the surface. This has not really been problematic in modern times, except on occasions when politicians deliberately exploit the issue and fan racial unrest to serve their own ends. Political candidates or interest groups would deliberately raise the specter of the Chinese menace especially during elections.
However, the image of Tsinoys (short for Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipino) today is vastly different from the immigrant intsik (Chinese) of yesteryear. The ethnic Chinese in contemporary Philippine life are integral to Philippine society: their destinies are inseparable from that of Filipinos.
Around 90% of the close to a million ethnic Chinese (who make up 1.2% of the total Philippine
population) are local born. Although they recognize and take pride in their Chinese roots and ancestry, their bonds are with the Filipino people; their future, with the Filipino nation.
This generation comes from the best Philippine schools, is politicized by the Philippine environment, and can articulate concerns to public officials. Today, Chinese Filipinos are no longer passive bystanders waiting for change to happen. They respond actively to new challenges and work for meaningful reforms in Philippine society.
This is one reality, which the Tsinoys hope both their own government, the Philippines, and China,
the country of their ancestors, would recognize. Before relations between China and the Philippines were normalized, both countries first agreed to solve the so-called “Chinese problem.” This referred to the sizable number of long-time Chinese residents in the Philippines, including those born here but who were still considered Chinese citizens.
The problem was solved on the eve of diplomatic relations through Letter of Instruction 270, an executive decree by then President Ferdinand Marcos. It granted Filipino citizenship through a greatly facilitated and speedy administrative process. National interest dictated that the Philippine government grant citizenship to local Chinese lest they fall under the jurisdiction of a foreign government.
Today, with majority of the ethnic Chinese already well integrated into mainstream Filipino society,
there is no longer a “Chinese problem.” Instead, the problems of the ethnic Chinese community have become national issues.
Integration is especially marked among the younger, local-born generation, and this process has happened smoothly as a natural social phenomenon. Not only does this hold true among Manila-based Chinese, but even more so among those who live in the provinces. The evolution of the Chinese—from traders and seafarers to sojourners or hua qiao and later immigrants or permanent residents—has been a long, difficult process.
That ethnic Chinese make up only a very small percentage (both relative to the total Philippine population and in absolute numbers) is a deciding factor in the socio-cultural makeup of the youth, who are more at home in a westernized Filipino rather than a purely Chinese cultural milieu. The ethnic barriers that separated their parents from their Filipino peers are no longer as obvious as they were before.
There is a mutual enrichment and enhancement of positive elements in each culture. As in the early
days when Chinese products were a prime commodity for exchange in the international market, the Chinese themselves have also become agents of change that help bring development to the Filipino nation.
Philippine soil and social environment have nurtured a new generation of Chinese Filipinos who
confidently accept their identity as Filipinos, yet remain proud of their Chinese heritage. With their
Chinese language abilities, Tsinoys are natural links, directly or indirectly, to the vast supermarket that is China and to the rest of the world.
print ed: 07/08