Second, the allegiance of ethnic Chinese Filipinos has come under question, with some among the public claiming that the community has remained silent on the SCS issue. The accusation is that Chinese-Filipinos will not fight a war for the Philippines and that they consider themselves Chinese first and Filipino second. Other negative narratives have also done the rounds – one contending that Chinese-Filipinos tend to marry only within their ethnic group.
In response, the Chinese-Filipino community, led by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, have stressed their historical role during the Philippine wars of liberation against Spain, the US and Imperial Japan, and their economic and philanthropic contributions to the nation through their businesses and foundations. This contribution is the result of their harmonious integration into Philippine society.
Among the Chinese-Filipino community, there is a broadly accepted belief that a constructive rather than confrontational approach in managing differences with China is the way forward, which is why many members choose to act as bridges between the Philippines and China, facilitating cooperation including commercial deals and people-to-people exchanges. Chinese-Filipino business groups have also extended humanitarian and financial assistance to Filipino fishermen who survived a boat collision incident in 2019 involving a Chinese fishing vessel.
By supporting better economic and social relations, many in the Chinese-Filipino community recognize that such efforts would generate more economic opportunities for Filipinos and foster better understanding between Filipinos and Chinese, which in turn, could contribute to improved bilateral ties and mitigate political risk for companies doing business between the two countries.
The Chinese-Filipino community, however, while influential, is a small fraction (1.5 percent) of the population. The majority of Filipinos tend to have a great affinity for the US and confidence in the American geopolitical position and strategy. Philippine social attitudes on the SCS issue escalated during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III from 2010 to 2016 when anti-China protests were staged in the Philippines and by Filipino communities around the world because of heightened tensions over the SCS. A 2016 ruling by the tribunal sitting in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected China’s claims in the SCS, supporting the case made by Manila. Beijing has refused to recognize the judgement.
During the Aquino administration, there were alleged plots to bomb the Chinese embassy and a construction company which employs Chinese workers, with the plotters supposedly wanting to defend Philippine sovereignty. Members of the public also vented their frustrations by denouncing what they viewed as the monopolistic business practices of Chinese-Filipino companies. In 2014, the Chinese embassy even issued a travel warning to Chinese citizens due to threats to their safety and that of their businesses.
To be sure, anti-Chinese sentiment has simmered in the Philippines since the Spanish colonial period when the native commercial classes regarded ethnic Chinese merchants and traders as threats to their economic livelihood and social mobility. At times, Chinese were prevented from owning land and were “steered” to reside in certain districts of Manila, which developed into a Chinatown. While there have been racial tensions in the past (though generally not to the same magnitude as in Indonesia or Malaysia), the situation now is different, as the central driver of disaffection among Filipinos for ethnic Chinese fellow citizens has been the SCS issue. Worsening matters is the widespread but erroneous perception that the emergence of “Philippine offshore gaming operations” or online gambling catering largely to Chinese customers is an attempt by China to add domination of the economy and society on top of its maritime ambitions.