Monday, 05 September 2011 16:16
State Visits are grand affairs. By its very nature, such trips made by national leaders to other countries are suffused with pomp and pageantry and punctuated by the clink of the finest crystal, china and silverware.
All the most powerful and influential people in politics, military and business come along for the ride and are herded efficiently through a battery of meetings, confabs and jaunts meant to foster better understanding and broaden trade and economic exchanges between two nations.
To be sure, President Benigno S. Aquino III will have all the elements of a standard State Visit when he comes to the Middle Kingdom on 30 August-02 September 2011.
Conferences will be held, banquets will be attended, agreements will be inked and plans to expand bilateral relations on all fronts will be made and finalized; all the more so in light of China’s rising global clout and its consequences to the economic and political make up of the east Asian region and beyond.
The paramount importance the Philippines places in its relations with the People’s Republic of China and its 1.4 billion-strong market and US$ 5.88 trillion-worth domestic economy ensures that President Aquino’s State Visit to China would be the Philippines’ diplomatic highlight for 2011.
Beyond all the stiff formalness of the boardrooms and state guesthouses, however, President Noynoy’s trip to China will include something more down to earth and closer to the President’s heart.
Coming to China will be an opportunity for the President to reconnect with his roots in southern Fujian province.
Tracing the very steps his mother took more than two decades ago, the President will visit the hometown of his Chinese ancestors in Hongjian Village, located in the township of Jiaomei, Longhai City, Zhangzhou Municipality, Fujian Province.
It is widely known that the late President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino is a fourth-generation Filipino-Chinese descended from Mr. Co Yu Hwan a Chinese immigrant from Hongjian Village who settled in the Philippines in 1861.
Mr. Co (the Chinese character for his surname is read as “Xu” in the national language Mandarin, while “Co” or “Kho” is the way the same character is pronounced in the southern Fujian dialect or Minnan Hua also known as Hokkien) converted to Roman Catholicism in the Philippines and was then baptized as Jose Cojuangco, the surname Cojuangco being an amalgamation of his Chinese Hokkien name, Co Yu Hwan.
Jose’s son Melecio Cojuangco (born in 1871) married another Filipino-Chinese named Tiakla Chico in 1894 and among their children was Jose Cojuangco, Jr., father to President Corazon Aquino, who is the mother of the current President, Benigno S. Aquino III.
Hongjian, a sleepy rural village located near the border of Xiamen’s Tong’An District and Zhangzhou Municipality, is home to about 1,700 residents with the surname Xu or Co. Though less than half an hour’s drive from the bustling metropolis of Xiamen Island, it is stands in stark contrast to the city as it has, for the moment, maintained the slow pulse of country life with friendly and hospitable locals who keep the traditional ways.
When President Cory came to Hongjian Village in 1988 she planted an araucaria tree (a genus of coniferous evergreen) to commemorate her visit. She also lighted incense at the altar of the Ancestral Temple of the Xu (Co) Clan. She was quoted as having remarked “I am the President, but I am also the daughter of Hongjian Village.”
This statement has resonated among the local villagers and was much quoted by local media, including the widely circulated Xiamen Daily, during the coverage of President Cory’s passing away in August 2009.
While the araucaria tree planted by the former President was growing, its trunk split into two and now the tree has two tops of equal height. When this happened, villagers took it as a sign that another branch from the former President’s family would rise up and achieve the same stature as the mother who planted the tree.
Consequently, when Benigno Aquino III won the presidential election of 2010, Hongjian villagers took this as the fulfillment of the event foreshadowed by the tree’s trunk splitting into two with both sections growing to equal height. Today, with the care of local villagers who are blood relatives of the Cojuangcos in the Philippines, the tree has grown to about as tall as a four-storey building.
Presently a park is being constructed on the site surrounding the tree planted by the former President. Fittingly, Village planners included in the Park the construction of a hall dubbed the Sino-Philippines Friendship Memorial Hall, which when completed, shall be dedicated to the memory of President Cory.
As his mother before him had done, President Aquino shall make this spiritual journey back to the cradle of his clan. He will follow local custom in honoring his ancestors in the Clan Temple, whose pantheon his mother now joins. But to Filipinos, this is not as foreign as it initially appears. Though Christianized for the better part of half a millennium, Filipinos, like the Chinese place great importance in honoring ancestors and acknowledging one’s roots.
Filipinos have a saying “ang ‘di lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ‘di makararating sa paroroonan”, which roughly translates as “he who does not acknowledge his origins will never reach his destination.”
The President is only one of so many notable Filipinos who have Chinese ancestry. He joins the ranks of other greats, chief of them national hero Jose Rizal whose great-great grandfather Ke Yi Nan (Domingo Lamco) hailed from Qiongque Village in Jinjiang City, Fujian.
Although cited to the point of cliché, the truth remains that the Philippines and Fujian share ties that go deeper and beyond the diplomatic niceties discussed in Beijing. These ties of trade, history, culture, blood and kinship are in fact the anchors of Philippines-China bilateral relations.
For despite highs and lows in political and economic ties, the friendship for the Filipino people that emanates from southern Fujian and spreads to all other parts of China will always transcend the current, albeit transient, issues of the day.
In tracing his roots in southern Fujian, the President is symbolically acknowledging how truly close the peoples of the Philippines and China are. In planting a tree as his mother did, he will sow new seeds that will also, with care and nourishment, take root and grow tall and strong.
With these roots in Hongjian Village, Philippines-China cooperation and exchange will grow surely and steadily, nurtured by the very hands of the Filipino and Chinese peoples themselves. (PNA)
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