Martial Law and Tsinoys

On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines citing the need to save the republic from civil strife, Moro insurgency, and Communist takeover. 39 years later and with the benefit of hindsight, it can  be said that Marcos’ regime and Martial Law had made a profound effect on Philippine society.  No other historical events in the Philippines, including the Pacific War, had made such a huge impact to the Philippine society than what Martial Law and Marcos’ regime did. Marcos’ great ambition to make the Philippines “a great nation again” was a grand failure of a social experiment at the cost of many lives and democratic institutions.

Just as Martial Law changed the lives of many Filipinos, it had also made a profound ramification to Chinese nationals and immigrants in the Philippines at that time. Prior to Martial Law, Chinese with intention to become a Filipino citizen for business or personal reasons were faced with a citizenship procedure that is complex, expensive, and often inaccessible.  Filipino presidents before Marcos had espoused policies that limited Chinese economic participation and opportunities. These policies were driven because of the Cold War geopolitical considerations at that time and the strong sentiment among the locals that Chinese entrepreneurs were shrewd and would do nothing but to kill the local Filipino industry.  In 1961, Carlos P. Garcia launched the “Filipino First” policy that placed the interests of natural born Filipinos over naturalized Filipinos. Industries were nationalized and jobs were reserved for Philippine citizens.

Then came the Martial Law era, in 1975, in line with Marcos’ desire to normalize diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China, he issued Letter of Instruction 270, an executive order granting a simplified, easier, and speedier naturalization process for long-time Chinese residents in the Philippines, including those born here but who were still considered Chinese citizens.  Droves of enterprising Chinese immigrants went to the Philippines for fortune and had become Filipino citizens in a few months’ time. The number of Tsinoys (Filipino-Chinese) increased significantly during this time. Almost 95% foreign Chinese gradually chose Philippine nationality after 1975 and they were able to own lands and enter industries erstwhile constitutionally banned to foreigners.

Without over riding Tsinoys economic contribution to the Philippines, many of them have also brought serious problems and threats, such as unfair business competition and practices. For example, since many new immigrants smuggled fabrics from mainland China, the local fabric market went struggling. Many local fabric plants owned by Filipinos have gone bankrupt due to their failure to compete with cheap fabrics smuggled from China.

Over a short period of time, with increased fortune, the Tsinoys have become even more an essential part of the elite in the Philippine society. The Tsinoys have become the new economic barons of the Philippines. The Sys, the Tans, the Tys, the Cos, the Yus, the Gokongweis, the Yuchengcos, the Gotianuns, among other successful Tsinoys have all prospered under Marcos regime. Wittingly or unwittingly, many Tsinoys supported Marcos as a quid pro quo for the benefits they are enjoying under his regime. They had become in one way or another part of Marcos’ infamous crony capitalists.  One obvious reason why Marcos was able to grip his dictatorial power for so long  was not only  he had the military on his side, but equally important was that he had the economic elite supporting him.

In the early 1980’s, the Marcos’ regime became awfully unstable and Ferdinand Marcos’ health begun to deteriorate. The Filipino people were shocked and angered by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. The Philippine economy was severely affected and the United States government would soon withdraw its support to the dictator. Tsinoy business captains knew that it would not take long before Marcos would fall from power. Before 1986 EDSA Revolution, a great number of Tsinoys had already shifted their political allegiance; securing that their business interests would continue to thrive on the new political order .

Now, Tsinoys are one of the kingmakers in Philippine politics and it all begun in 1975, thanks to Ferdinand “Apo” Marcos’ Letter of Instruction 270. I would not wonder then that if on 2016, Apo’s only son, Senator Bongbong Marcos would have the guts to aspire to become the next president of the Philippines, after Ninoy’s only son, President Noynoy Aquino. Despite the severed times among Tsinoys and the Marcoses, many Tsinoys know how indebted they are to Apo. After all, it was Apo who became instrumental in the success of many of today’s Tsinoy tycoons and taipans.


My article last week was about Philippine-Chinese basketball and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Team Smart-GILAS Philippine national basketball team for successfully entering the Final Four of FIBA Asia Championships being held in Wuhan City, China. The last time we’ve entered the Final Four was in 1987 during the time of Allan Caidic, Jojo Lastimosa, Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, and Ronnie Magasanoc. Yes, finally, after 24 long years we’re back as one of the basketball powerhouses in Asia! Press on until we regain our long, lost basketball supremacy this side of the world.

Image credit: Wikipedia

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • J_ag

    Once again time to revisit the big picture behind martial law in 1972 and the Chinese question. 

    Nixon visits Mao in February 1972 and in January 1973 all U.S. troops are withdrawn form Vietnam.  That signaled the end of the domino theory in Asia. By the end of the 70’s Mao was dead and China moved to install market mechanism’s.  With the help of greater China (overseas Chinese outside China) that propelled the rise of the export model for China while she allowed farmers to keep most of their gains, the Chinese became unstoppable in Asia. Most of SE Asia (Greater China with Taiwan) is emerging to become the most powerful  economic bloc on the planet.  

    Almost all the Big Tsinoys from the Philippines keep a large part of their capital in Singapore and HK. They then simply leverage the same capital and invest back in the Philippines as so called called foreign investments in the Philippines. They get taxed less. 

  • Anonymous

    Ahhhh,  Ferdinand Marcos. 

    And for now, it remains that “Ferdinand Marcos”  is not Pilipinas answer to the question of  “..Who was mastermind of Ninoy Aquino murder?”

    Maybe Bongbong2016 will result in a stronger initiative to find the answer.