Opinion: Chinese Filipino Tycoon Kowtows to Beijing

Philippine presidential contender Grace Poe is facing possible disqualification both due to her uncertain origins as a foundling and because her loyalty to the nation has been questioned over her former US citizenship, which she only renounced in 2010 after she was offered an official position by President Benigno Aquino III.

So what then are Filipinos to make of Lucio Tan's behavior? One of the richest individuals in the country, Tan, born in Fujian, China, became a multi-billionaire thanks mainly to the tobacco monopoly handed to him by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Tan has done more than survive the Marcos fall, continuing to build an even bigger fortune courtesy of compliant institutions that have ignored decades of tax dodging and shady dealings.

In 2013, Forbes listed Tan as the Philippines’ second-richest man, with interests in Asia Brewery, Tanduay Distillers, Fortune Tobacco, the Philippine National Bank and Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier and a welter of other companies.

But he seems sorely lacking in any sense of patriotism to the adopted country where he has thrived so spectacularly. Although the Philippines is under constant threat and harassment from an expansionist China claiming most of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, building illegal structures in its waters and harassing local fishermen Tan and his family are keen to show that they are actually patriotic Chinese, not patriotic Filipinos.

Tan is hosting President Xi Jinping, turning over the whole of his 400-room Century Park Hotel in the rather seedy Ermita district to the president and his vast entourage. This appears to be less a commercial decision than one to underline his Chinese identity during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference being held this week in Manila. He has similarly hosted other Chinese leaders including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

His son Michael Tan was quoted as saying: “It is my family’s honor to receive President Xi, just like my father’s participation in the military parade” – a reference to Lucio Tan’s presence at Tiananmen Square on September 5 for the vast parade by the very same Chinese military that is threatening the seas and livelihoods of Filipinos. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, itself increasingly reflecting Chinese nationalism, even described Tan as a “famed patriot.” The paper would know.

Perhaps Beijing now perceives it to be patriotic for its sons to move overseas to pillage non-Chinese neighbors, maintaining allegiance not only to their Chinese ancestry but to China the would-be hegemon of the seas and all of the Malay peoples.

It is a reflection on the sorry and shallow state of Philippine nationalism that Tan and his ilk can get away with such behavior, particularly after their records of participation in the grand larceny of the Marcos years. Solita Monsod, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines and former Economic Planning Secretary, was quoted in 1999 as saying that "Lucio Tan is a role model for the worst kind of conduct as far as our national objectives are concerned. He signals that you can evade taxes and get away with it, pay the courts and get the judges to decide in your favor, get good lawyers and delay your cases. The messages that are given by the kind of treatment that he gets from the government are the antithesis of what we need for sustainable development: an even playing field and government intervention of the right kind."

Surely the senators and justices looking into every detail of Poe’s background and loyalties should turn their attention to Tan. Or would that have negative consequences for their bank balances?