Rizal's ''rags-to-riches''
ancestor from South China

By Wilson Y. Lee Flores

rizalp.gif (19325 bytes)


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 his direct male
heir and Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

Five Rizal descendants recently 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 a
1.2-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 I told her it was
possible to trace the hero's Chinese roots. In February this year,
this writer and businessman Manuel O. Chua 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
Manila's National Library. Authored by 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 or ''City of Spring.''
''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 country's top
Filipino entrepreneurs of Chinese descent.

Rizal's eminent ancestors

Siongque was the rural ''barrio'' where entrepreneur Domingo
Lamco was born and educated in. 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 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 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.

Village of Lamco and Copra King

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 others from nearby villages
lined all streets for the 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 them two
village temples. It was a welcome befitting an emperor.

Noni Bantug delivered a speech hoping that the memory of
Rizal's Chinese heritage will 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, impressed the audience by
speaking about his ''lolo'' Jose Rizal in fluent Mandarin. 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 respected for his ''shinyung'' or ''trustworthiness''
that company drafts with his signatures were then considered
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., the future
top Bicolano businessman and father of former BIR
Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons Chato.

From merchant, mayors to martyr

Domingo Lamco was a fearless entrepreneur who not only
ensured 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,
required them to pay unfair higher taxes and even at times
massacred 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 of
35, Domingo Lamco later moved to Bi?an, Laguna, prospered
and became a Chinese community leader. 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 will not to 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 mestizas and both
served as distinguished mayors of Bi?an 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 again had to change the
family surname 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 honor 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 heir Dr. Jose Rizal had immeasurably
enriched Philippine national life.
 

April 26, 1999
from the Philippine Inquirer Internet Edition


Back to Top
Philippine Culture
Tagalog Homepage