By Arrah Camillia Q. Manticajon – February 8, 2016

Palm Grass Hotel, the only heritage hotel in Cebu, pays tribute to Cebuano-Chinese freedom fighters.

The Chinese is known for their business acumen, a fact that is confirmed by history.

According to the Jesuit priest Fr. Pedro Chirino, “the Chinese had come in trading junks to settle in the city,”1 and settled in the Parian district in the 1590s2 which evolved into a market and trading center due to Cebu’s brief participation in the galleon trade.

Making Cebu wealthy

Prior to 1760, Chinese mestizo merchants served as middlemen who collected products from the province and delivered these to the provincial governor. By the 1820s, they acquired enough capital to purchase lands in Talamban, and eventually relocated there.

They had become assimilated with Cebuano society such that the bishop commented that they “spoke Cebuano as their mother tongue and no longer knew how to speak Chinese.”

They are credited for “making Cebu wealthy” as they sent their purchasing agents to different parts of the Philippines to buy local products for selling to foreign merchants in Manila.3

Cebuano Chinese tragedy

Despite their contributions to stimulating the economy, the Chinese were not spared from the atrocities of the Spanish government. In May 1896, a Spanish military expedition was sent to Cebu to quell the revolts, resulting to the Cebuano Chinese tragedy mentioned in the book Historical Records of Big Events Outside China:

The Cebu ethnic Chinese suffered a great tragedy. The Spanish governor-general ordered soldiers to torch all the native houses. The Chinese stores were completely gutted. However, all the other merchants of the other nationalities were protected by their consuls with the exception of the Chinese who had no protection at all. They ran hither and thither, each one trying on his own to escape. Some died in the fire, some died from the enemies’ firepower, and some were killed outright by the soliders. The whole town’s Chinese residents numbering almost 900 people perished, with only two able to escape. I could hardly bear to read the accounts of such a tragic massacre [Translated from Chinese].4

Freedom fighters

Two Cebuano freedom fighters with Chinese ancestry risked their lives to join the fight against Spain.

One of these is Lucio Herrera Uy Chijon, a Chinese Christian who had residences in Lutao and Labangon and was an influential figure in the Chinese community.5

He was an early recruit to the Katipunan,6 during which time he voted in favor of having a revolution in Cebu along with 13 other members.7

His house was also used to hold Katipunan sessions. Hermogenes Plata and Gil Domingo later appointed him as treasurer of war in the dictatorial government, but this plan was foiled due to the execution of their compatriots on April 2, 1898.8

On that very morning, Herrera was summoned to General Adolfo Montero’s office at

Fort San Pedro, where he was grilled about his relationship with and the activities of Cebuano Katipunero Francisco Llamas. He replied that although Llamas was his brother-in-law, he knew nothing of his activities because they lived far from each other.

Disbelieving him, Montero slapped and kicked Herrera. However, the general allowed Herrera to return home, knowing his influential position in the Chinese community, aside from lacking evidence against him.9

Palm Grass honors Herrera by having its second floor office named after him.

Fighting well

Another man sympathetic to Leon Kilat’s cause was Tuti, a Chinese businessman who was a resident of San Nicolas district. His ancestors came to the Philippines from China long before the Christian missionaries accidentally found their way to the islands.

When the Katipuneros in Cebu took up arms against the “strange creature that showed no signs or capacity of feeling,” he joined the insurgents and fought well, sharing their constant danger, disease and hunger.

His bravery was commemorated by having a street named after him in San Nicolas. Tuti Street ran southward from Tres de Abril, passing through V. Rama St. Paulino R. Sanchez St. and C. Padilla.10 However by virtue of Ordinance No. 889, Tuti Street was renamed to T. Abella St. in 197411.

While red for the Chinese means good fortune, for Herrera and Tuti, it also meant blood and sacrifice for the freedom of the nation.

1 Mojares, Resil B. Casa Gorordo in Cebu. Urban Residence in a Philippine Province. Cebu City: Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc., 1983.

2 Mojares, ibid.

3 Mojares, ibid.

4 Tsinoy: The Story of the Chinese in Philippine Life. Edited by Teresita Ang See. Manila: Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, 2005.

5 Cullinane, Michael. Arenas of Conspiracy and Rebellion in the Late Nineteenth-Century Philippines. The Case of the April 1898 Uprising in Cebu. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014.

6 Cullinane, ibid.

7 Quisumbing, Jose R. Leon Kilat (1873-1898) and the Cebu Revolution of 1898. Cebu City: S & G Printers, 1991.

8 Quisumbing, ibid.

9 Sy. Dionisio A. The History of Cebu City. Cebu City: Cebu Provincial Government, 2014.

10 Cantali, Zenaida et al. A Historical Study on the Lives of the Persons After Whom Cebu City Streets are Named. Undergraduate thesis submitted to the University of San Carlos. Cebu City.

11 Oaminal, Paul. “Abella streets in Cebu City,” CEBUPEDIA column. Cebu City: The Freeman, 2013.

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