Filipino heroes in Hong Kong
By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:54:00 10/30/2009
Although I have been visiting Hong
Kong regularly for close to four decades now, I never tire of the place because each trip always has a discovery.
I have since outgrown the glitzy shopping malls of Tsim Tsa Tsui on Kowloon that Filipino shopaholics
know like the back of their hand, and enjoy walking aimlessly on Hong Kong island not just
to catch a glimpse of their colonial past, but to trace the places where our heroes lived in exile. Everyone knows that Jose
Rizal maintained an eye clinic here and that one of his girlfriends, Josephine Bracken, was from Hong Kong, but it is not
well known that others who figure in the birth of the nation once lived or visited Hong Kong,
including Emilio Aguinaldo, Gregorio del Pilar, Pedro Paterno, Jose Ma. Basa, Felipe and Marcela Agoncillo.
Rizal maintained an eye clinic on Hong
Kong island. His calling cards provide three separate addresses: D’Aguilar
Street and Duddell Street
off bustling Queen’s Road in a place everyone calls “Central” and a third address up in an area known as
“Mid-levels,” which is accessible through the longest escalator in the world, where he and members of his family
lived. The place is called Rednaxela Terrace (that’s Alexander spelled backwards). The Hong Kong Antiquities Board have
installed historical markers in Daguilar Street and
Rednaxela Terrace in recognition of the large Filipino community in Hong Kong. We can only
hope that the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong can negotiate the installation of another
marker on Duddell Street which still has the original
granite steps and four gas lamps that Rizal saw in his time. That former Hong Kong Home Affairs Secretary Dr. Patrick Ho (2002-2007)
happened to be a friend of the Filipino community and an ophthalmologist, who had a clinic on Daguilar Street like Rizal, probably explains why Rizal is honored by two historical
markers. But why not three?
Some people may say that history over-emphasizes
Rizal and ignores other heroes. Well, history is based on written records and Rizal happened to write a great deal, and his
papers have come down to our times. Aguinaldo and Del Pilar were so busy fighting a revolution or eluding the enemy that they
had little time to write or conserve what little was written.
While Rizal’s business cards provide us
with his addresses, we are not so lucky with others. Where did Emilio Aguinaldo stay? Where did the dashing Gregorio del Pilar
have his suits made? Where did Pedro Paterno go for curios that he installed in his “museum”? There is even a
question on where exactly the Agoncillos lived because there is Morrison Road
and Morrison Hill Road.
All this requires new research, perhaps by Filipino
journalists in Hong Kong like Isabel Escoda, Daisy Mandap or Alexandra Seno. The Hong Kong
Antiquities Board has installed a marker on Morrison Hill Road,
now a children’s playground, where Felipe and Marcela Agoncillo once lived. It was in their home that the flag of the
first Philippine Republic was sewn.
We know that both Rizal and Aguinaldo maintained
accounts with the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp., but where was this before?
There are more obscure Filipinos who made a home
in Hong Kong, like Balvino Mauricio who is mentioned in the memoirs of Jose Alejandrino and remembered basically for a piece
of art by Jose Honorato Lozano who spelled out Mauricio’s name and ornamented each letter with figures and plants creating
that wonderful form we know as “letras y figuras.” Jose Ma. Basa was a long-time resident who lived in a place
called Remedios Terrace. It was he who found ways and means to smuggle Rizal’s novels into Manila
from Hong Kong. He was a successful businessman who, according to the late Austin Coates,
was known as the “Potato King of HK” whatever that means.
I visited the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum in on Caine Road to see a wonderfully restored early 20th-century building
and learn about the life and times of Dr. Sun, acknowledged as the Father of Modern China. He and Rizal would have gotten
along well. Both of them saw the future of their countries and worked for it. Both of them lived in Hong
Kong at some point in their lives and they had common friends. It is unfortunate they did not meet.
However, there is a Philippine connection with
Dr. Sun because he met and knew Mariano Ponce in Yokohama.
I was disappointed that no reference, not even a footnote on this, was anywhere to be found in the Sun Yat Sen Museum. Ponce and Sun have a wonderful photograph together,
Dr. Sun in Western garb and Ponce in Japanese attire. Again
this is a detail that our consulate general should pursue to have this Philippine reference included in the exciting life
of Dr. Sun as presented in this impressive museum.
With all these fascinating leads on Philippine
history in Hong Kong, one can sense a Ph.D. dissertation or a book crying out to be written.
Hong Kong is so accessible these days; it is less than two hours away by plane, does not require a visa for short stays, and
with airlines competing for passengers, a round-trip Manila-Hong Kong budget ticket from PAL at $99 is cheaper than the regular
fare to Cebu or Davao. All their newspapers, with all the
Philippine news of the 19th century are available and downloadable on the Internet. The material lies in wait for the right
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