The Chinese Among Us

Last December 1, 2007, I was invited by my cousins to deliver a message in a program that commemorates the 1st Death Anniversary of my uncle, Vicente Hao Chin, Sr. It was something I wanted to do. The Hao Chin’s have helped me to be where I am now, without asking or getting anything in return. But more importantly, my uncle was an “institution” in Naga City, in his own time. Unfortunately, Typhoon Mina was hovering over the Bicol Region. The flight to Manila was cancelled. I therefore had to request my sister, Penny, to read the message on my behalf. Penny told me later that the affair was well attended, with the Ambassador of China and prominent Filipino-Chinese personalities honoring the occasion. (She just could not understand them though. Except for my speech, all the messages were done in Mandarin.)

While my Uncle was a class by himself, his struggles and dreams were similar to many of those who have migrated from China to look for a better life in the Philippines. Many of them have made their own mark in their own localities, with a few of them gaining national prominence. Many of them have humble and difficult beginnings but have managed to improve their lot by working hard, working hard and working hard . . . Some of them were mistreated, discriminated upon and humiliated. But they had to hang on, for want of a choice and for the sake of their families. (I recall being heckled in several political fora because of my Chinese lineage. When we were younger, my father always reminded us to never let it pass. He said that while we are not special by any means, we are not inferior either.) Looking back, maybe they succeeded because they were working under adverse circumstances. They helped each other because they needed it to survive. Sometimes, the worse of times brings out the best in us..

Here was my tribute to my uncle . . .

Vicente Hao Chin, Sr., a Pragmatic Visionary

My uncle, Vicente Hao Chin Sr., who we fondly call Papa Chona, was a giant of a man. Though he had difficulty in communicating in the Filipino or English language, having had come fresh from mainland China, he surmounted all the odds to make the most out of himself for his family and for others. Like my father, whose sister, Tia Nit, is Papa Chona’s wife, he established himself through the dint of hard work and entrepreneurial skill.

While in Naga City, Papa Chona engaged in the hardware and lumber business. I saw him as a man with plenty of imagination, persistence, and nerve. Life was not easy for a Chinaman in the City. But he persevered. He plodded on. He succeeded. He later on became President of the Naga City Chapter of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Papa Chona was one of the founders of the Chin Po Tong Volunteer Fire Brigade, an organization recognized as the pioneer of “Chinese volunteerism” in our locality. While in Naga City, he led the Chinese community in productively partnering with the city government and other local organizations to pursue various socio-economic and civic-oriented projects. One of which is the Naga City Civic Center, an important city landmark, which was established under the incumbency of then City Mayor Vicente P. Sibulo, his friend and namesake. Papa Chona was a pillar of the Naga City Chinese community. He was always there for them. I recall my Chinese friends recounting the many times his counsel was sought to resolve misunderstandings between members of the Chinese community. I guess Papa Chona was respected because he was a decent and fair person who wanted nothing for himself.

As his children were growing, Papa Chona went to Manila to venture into more ambitious business ventures, with the attendant risks, of course. I did not understand then why he would risk his successes in Naga City. Business in the city was expanding then. But Papa Chona was ahead of his time.

In 1971, he established the Philippine Belt Manufacturing Corporation (PhilBelt). Little did everyone know that it was to be the first industrial belting company in the Philippines. It is now considered as one of the largest producers of rubber belts in Southeast Asia. Whoever thought that one day a family corporation founded by Papa Chona would be in the big league forging a licensing agreement with Bando Chemical Industries, Ltd. of Japan, for the manufacture of v-belts and conveyor belts? From 1986 to the present, even after Papa Chona has passed away, PhilBelt has continued to establish itself in the export market. Through the years, Philbelt has maintained the quality and reliability of its products. Though I may sound like the spokesman of Philbelt, I would proudly say that Papa Chona’s unheard-of levels of ingenuity, courage and persistence made Philbelt a world-class automotive and industrial belting supplier in the Philippines and around the globe.

As a nephew wanting to succeed in the challenges that I chose to take, I look at Papa Chona as a towering figure who understood what he can do but did his best to outdo himself. Papa Chona has turned his ambitious ideas into a marvelous machine of prosperity, into an industry that brought in dollars to the country, generated jobs, and shared profits with the countless number of suppliers that sell Philbelt products throughout the country.

It has been said that some of the brightest names in government, economics, arts and literature, trade and commerce, are found to have come from the Bicol Region. Modesty aside, I would say that Papa Chona is one of them. (Papa Chona was honored by the Peoples Republic of China as one of the outstanding 1000 Chinese migrants worldwide sometime four years ago.) His impressive accomplishments as an entrepreneur, civic leader and philanthropist have been undoubtedly interwoven in the matrix of nation-building. The torch is now passed onto his children and the next generations to come. His legacy lives on because we are here whom he had honed to become what we are now.

Papa Chona’s death anniversary always brings me back to my collegiate years. As a young Engineering student at De La Salle University in Manila, I stayed in his house and probably learned more valuable things that I could not gain in the campus. In the house, I had the opportunity to interact with him at close range. I shared the room with my cousin Pabs who was a little older than me. Like his other brother and sisters, Pabs was a deep thinker. In that small corner, we found ourselves engaged in nightly discussions on everything from politics to management issues. From time to time, Pabs would share nuggets of wisdom from Papa Chona. I say his children, my cousins, mirror the kind of man their father was. We have been blessed to have been a part of him.

Thank you very much.



4 Responses to The Chinese Among Us

  1. Mayor Jess,

    Thanks for sharing this insightful and deeply inspiring tribute-article:)

  2. jesserobredo says:

    Zaldy: Thanks too!

  3. Auggie says:

    Mr. Mayor,
    Thanks for that extremely edifying article.
    Your Uncle should be included in Bicolandia’s URAGON HALL OF FAME.
    Merry Christmas !

  4. Aika says:

    Wow, your blog looks a lot better now (and has a lot more features on the side too). Congrats! Haha. See you soon! 🙂

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