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The Chinese question

by Teodoro M. Locsin

July 12, 1952

LAST week, Elpidio Quirino, the President of the Philippines found himself having to apologize for the conduct of some Filipinos. A float entered by the Filipino National Patriotic League in the Independence Day parade at the Luneta carried the inscriptions:

“The Filipino misery can be solve by the mass deportation of the Chinese.”

“Join the Filipino National Patriotic League for a national movement against Chinese in the Philippines.”

The President, departing from his prepared speech, said:

“I want to take this opportunity to apologize for one smuggled float which was not authorized by the committee and which will be explained later on.”

The float, it turned out, was the work of an association said to have a thousand members and headed by a lawyer by the name of Arturo Samaniego. Nothing more will be said of the man here: he is merely a symptom, not the disease.

Manifestations

Why then is there such a feeling against the Chinese in the Philippines? Much of that feeling is not expressed, but it is there, a strong undercurrent, going against the tides of decency. In the past, during the Spanish regime, it erupted—to mix our metaphors a bit—in mass massacres of the Chinese and confiscation’s of their properties. Of recent memory is the looting of Chinese stores as the Japanese entered Manila. The last plain manifestation of it is the “patriotic” float in the Independence Day parade. These are sporadic, but the murmur, the whisper, the resentment—and the fear never cease; they are always there. The incident at the Luneta is not to be lightly dismissed. It is aimed at a definite objective, a mass sentiment that is waiting for the first really effective demagogue to exploit it. An obvious loony would not succeed, but a man with a mind and no conscience, brains and no principles, could ride to power on the issue—ride to power in the wake off destruction and death, the inevitable products of racial hate.

The feeling has an economic base. The Chinese are crowding Filipinos out of business. The retail trade is in Chinese hands, and much of the hardware and the building material trade, in the manufacture of shirts, cigarettes, etc. They control the nation’s supply of rice and flour. They run the groceries, the sari-sari stores. The Filipinos find himself increasingly an economic prisoner of the Chinese. The Chinese are in everything except, as one Filipino put it, in the music business. What is worse, the increasing economic control of the country seems the result of a concerted effort. It is not merely a case of individual Chinese driving individual Filipinos out of business, but of the Chinese acting as a community group pressure. The individual Filipino retailer hasn’t got a chance against the Chinese combine.

Nor have the Chinese been discreet in the exercise of their economic power. As a community foreign and apart from the Filipino mass they might have been more tactful in the pursuit of profit and the use of their economic power, but they have not hesitated to hoard and profiteer. Their profits have been great and immediate and Chinese mansions are rising everywhere while Filipinos continue to live in hovels and in want. But while it may be true that business is business, considering the peculiar situation in which they are in, it may be well for the Chinese to ask themselves whether the policy of “business is business” may not prove dangerous business.

This is not to say that Filipinos do not hoard and profiteer; they do. One would hesitate to claim a higher set of business ethics for Filipinos than for the Chinese. And, to put it bluntly, if Filipinos patronize Chinese stores, particularly the Chinese sari-sari stores, it is because they get better service there than in similar Filipino establishments. They get credit. They are extended courtesy. Failure to pay at the end of the month is met with patience, even the extension of further credit, not with harsh words and dirty looks. Many Filipino homes would not know what to do without the Chinese sari-sari store.

Competition

The fact remains that the Chinese are better businessmen, will work more for less than Filipinos. Coming as they do from a land not so rich and lush as these islands, overcrowded, famine-stricken, the Chinese have learned to “root, hog, or die.” When they go into business then, it is in a spirit foreign to less hard-pressed Filipinos, as though it were a matter of life and death. Against such an almost fanatical will to succeed, few Filipino enterprises can prevail.

At the same time, apart from their virtues as businessmen, when the Chinese act as a group, they create conditions approximating those of trusts and open themselves to the charge of unfair competition. The leaders of the Chinese community have yet to realize, perhaps, that lasting Chinese profit cannot be secured except in conjunction with the common good. The merely competitive will is not enough; the Chinese community must identify itself with the greater community in which it lives and works, or it will be cast out. And it would be wisdom for the Chinese of great wealth not to flaunt it in the face of the needy. Filipinos will resent a Chinese in a Cadillac, yet think nothing of seeing a Filipino in the same car. Should there be a great economic crisis in the country, the Chinese would not be safe.

The Germans listened to Hitler screaming obscenities about the Jews because they were jobless, hungry and insecure. They needed a scapegoat for their misfortunes. The Jews were a distinct community, a “foreign” body although they had been living in Germany for centuries. On them the Germans could vent their frustrations and unreasoning anger at their lot. The Jews were handy; they were “it.”

As Filipinos remain insecure and in need, they continue to be good material for any demagogue who would blame all the country’s ills on some foreign element, on the Chinese.

The answer to Chinese enterprise is Filipino enterprise, to Chinese unfair trade practices prosecution. To Chinese bribes—incorruptibility. If they act as a group, too, let Filipinos act as a group, too. The Filipinos have the advantage of being in their own country and running its government; what the Chinese community does for the Chinese businessman, the Filipinos, with all the power and resources at their command, can do for the Filipino. If the Chinese bribes—he is able to bribe only because there is always a Filipino ready and waiting to accept the bribe. If the Chinese enterprise succeeds, it is usually against all obstacles; if a Filipino one fails, it is usually in spite of all the advantages. If the Chinese community should learn how to be discreet, the Filipino should learn how to be somewhat like the Chinese.

The Chinese are many and wield a great influence in the islands, but they are not so many that they could take over the country. It would be well if they stopped thinking of themselves as Chinese and started thinking of themselves as Filipinos—after all, most of them have been here long enough—if they did as Rizal’s great-great-grandfather did. That would solve the problem overnight. Those of English, Swedish, Italian,  and German stock in the United States, do not think of themselves as English, Swedish, Italians, or Germans, but as Americans.