Teresita Ang See: Bridging the Gap Between the Chinoys and the Filipinos

Launching the #1CH1NOY campaign, CHiNOY TV unveils a new season that aims to spotlight modern Chinoys, currently airing on CNN Philippines. Among these personalities who represent a modern take on Chinoy cultural values is the legendary Teresita Ang-See.


Teresita Ang See is arguably one of the most well-known names of the Chinoy community. She is a mother, a civil rights activist, and the founder of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, but like many people who have done great things, See didn’t exactly plan to pursue the path that she has become synonymous with.


The Beginning of Her Advocacy Journey

See grew up in a predominantly Filipino neighborhood, but despite being one of the only Chinoys there, she never felt different from everyone else. Ironically, she only started to feel like an outsider when she moved to Binondo; a place where Chinoys usually live.


“It’s when I moved to Binondo, hardly speaking but understanding Hokkien, that I found out that people look at me differently. People in Binondo during those times speak very little Filipino and they only speak Hokkien. Binondo was very Sinosized then. That was probably in the mid-50s,” See shares.


This just goes to show how isolated the Chinoy community used to be. They existed within a little bubble, not caring much for the events around them or adapting  to the culture of the country they live in. And for a while, See was also swept into this little bubble. She later went to the University of the Philippines to study Political Science, which served as the spark that started her advocacy. 


“The game changer probably would be my college days as a political science student at the UP Diliman at the height of student activism. You have our professor in history class telling us: ‘What are you doing inside the classroom? History is being made outside!’And being Chinese Filipino, you know that your feet are firmly in Filipino soil. What affects the Philippines affects the Chinese Filipinos and vice-versa,” See states.


She also admits that a certain what-if scenario had frequently been a source of her nightmares. “What if I didn’t go to UP and stayed in Binondo that time? It’s very ethnocentric, very sinosized when I was growing up.  You don’t even know what the outside world is at the time. I was not very aware ‘til probably in UP when my classmates were willing to give up their lives for this country. That really dinned into my mind that no matter what your heritage is, no matter what your race is, this is our one and only country and we are in it together. And that is what pushed me to really work and pursue my life’s work.”


Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran

See is one of the founders of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, a non-government organization (NGO) dedicated to integrating the Chinoy community into Philippine society. It was originally called Pagkakaisa sa Pag-unlad, and it was co-founded by See’s late husband Chin Ben See. It was renamed Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. See’s own husband died shortly after the EDSA revolution, and she founded Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Inc. in 1987 to honor his legacy. 


“The credo of our organization, Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, in essence, says: ‘Our blood may be Chinese but our roots grow deep in Philippine soil. Our bonds are with the Filipino people. We are ‘kaisa’ regardless of race, blood, social status, faith, tradition, belief, for ‘kaunlaran,’ for the progress of our country,’” See explains.


Kaisa is also the organization behind Bahay Tsinoy, which is an interactive museum that gives people a glimpse of life in the Chinoy community. “This whole center is a bridge of understanding between two cultures and a bridge of tolerance between 2 generations. Believing that you are not just a Chinese who happens to be in the Philippines but we are Filipinos who happen to be of Chinese descent and heritage,” See says.


Becoming the Face of the Chinoy Community

Despite See’s efforts to bridge the gap between the Chinoy community and the rest of the Philippine society, Chinoys still continue to keep to themselves, even during dire times. During the 90’s, the kidnap-for-ransom modus was rampant, and the victims were almost always Chinoy children. See described it as the perfect crime because families wouldn’t report it or cooperate with authorities. Instead, they would pay the large ransom fees within a short period of time, and for this reason, kidnapping became even more widespread. 


“Towards the end of 1992, it was happening so frequently so I was probably the first one to start recording everything that I hear because you don’t see this in the papers, you don’t see this being reported. You hear this only in the grapevine. It was very lamentable that we got to learn in the Malacanang Palace meeting, somebody jokingly said: ‘oh never mind the kidnapping, the Chinoys can always afford to pay the ransom,’” See says, dismayed.


In January 1993, a fifteen-year-old kidnap victim named Charlene Sy was killed in a crossfire, and this became the catalyst that spurred See into action. “At the funeral parlor of Charlene Sy, there was a very big sign outside the door: No media allowed. No interview or photographer allowed. Suddenly Joseph Estrada came in. Of course, all of the media rushed in with him. Somebody shouted at the back: ‘Yan lang naman ang alam niyan, publicity.’ I think Erap thought I was the one who shouted that.”


“When he was coming down, when he paid his respects to Charlene Sy, I stood up and confronted him. ‘Sir, kailan po ba matatapos ito?’

“Dinuro-duro niya: ‘Ikaw ha, ikaw si Teresita Ang See, no? Why do you keep criticizing me?’ Syempre, the media were with him, they didn’t shoot that footage when he started it. They shot the footage of me, shouting at him.”


“‘Sir, kayo po ang nangako na isang buwan lang, matatapos na itong kidnapping. In broad daylight, a 15-year-old student was killed.’ His people collared me. And my people who were with me, surrounded me and brought me out. It changed everything,” See recalls.

From that point on, the Chinoy community stood as a united front. A mass funeral protest was held for Charlene Sy, various Chinoy businesses and schools closed down to join the fight, and See stood at the forefront to rally for change. “That is probably something I never expected I could command that kind of unity. It was a unity of purpose to show the government that enough is enough,” See says.


This was when See became known as the spokesperson of the Chinoy community, but she didn’t claim the title for herself, it was the media that gave it to her. People accused her of wanting fame, of wanting to run for public office, but See said she had nothing to gain for it. She would have benefited more from a quiet life because she still had two children who were dependent on her, but she wanted to help in whatever way she could. 


“I’ve always believed that not everyone is given a privilege to be of help, to make a difference. Those of us given that chance should seize it. It might not come our way again,” See asserts. “No matter how it is, this is our country. It is our Lupang Hinirang. We are just in one country, we are in one boat. Do not say: ‘Why me?’ say ‘Why not me?’”


To find out more, catch the next episode of 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart, airing at CNN Philippines today Sunday 8pm. Watch it via Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10. It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage

Leave a Reply