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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 writer.

Comments are welcome at



Harmony and hazards of working abroad

11/12/2009 | 09:53 PM


At the age of 83, Silverio Yaneza is probably the oldest OFW in Hong Kong today. Mang Berio flew to Hong Kong in 1949 to work as a musician for the Armed Forces. There were only a handful of Filipinos living in that part of Asia then. Now thousands of OFWs consider Hong Kong their second home. Although already retired from military service, Mang Berio is still active in the music scene. He plays regularly for a jazz bar