From a humble origin in the Fukien province of China, the enterprising young man Go Bon Tiao, known more commonly today as Don Pedro Singson Gotiaoco, went on to become known as one of the 19th-century Cebu wealthiest taipans. His story is not unlike those of many prominent Filipino-Chinese businessmen with their quite literally rags to riches story. But what sets Pedro Gotiaoco apart from the rest of his Chinese brethren is not only the continuation of the family wealth to the present generation, but also the diversification of the business enterprises in not one, two, or even just three families but in 5 financially entrenched families in the country today with their influence stretching in all corners of society. Truly, the rise to wealth of the Go family and their contribution to the economy of the
In an interview with Atty. Augusto Go, the President of the
But there was also a more pressing reason why he had to flee his hometown, and it was this reason, above all, that precipitated the young Gotiaoco’s escape from
Like most of the Chinese population in the country, Pedro Gotiaoco started in the lowest wrung of the social ladder. The Chinese were already considered second-class citizens in late Spanish-colonial
Rags to Riches
Pretty soon, Pedro Gotiaoco decided to assimilate with mainstream Chinese-Filipino communities by being baptized in the Christian faith. According to American culture historian on the
Similarly, the ennobling title of “Don” soon became attached to Gotiaco’s name. Don Pedro Go Tiaoco, according Southwall magazine's Arts and Culture Editor Gavin Sanson Bagares, was a "Chino Cristiano" or Christianized Chinese who got his honorific title of "don" from some form of service to the Spanish Crown, most probably as a"teniente" or an adjutant of the Chinese "gremio" or tax ward. In the available list, he does not appear to have been a "capitan" or "gobernadorcillo" (a position equivalent to that of mayor today) of the said ward. The “co” on his adopted Hispanized surname also appears to indicate some form of influence; although the word "CO" is also a Chinese last surname, when it appears as part of a three-syllable Chinese-Filipino surname it then corresponds to a title or distinction given to affluent citizens, similar to the "DON/DONA" titles used by Spanish aristocratic mestizos. Says Hector Santos, an expert on indigenous Filipino/Chinese-Filipino names, “co was a title of respect given to someone like an elder, or an older brother. However, Co was also a valid name so that it would be hard to say whether the "Co" in the name was part of the original Chinese name or was an honorific. Generally speaking, if it is at the end it would have been an honorific.”
Progeny and Prodigy
It would seem that after becoming prosperous in the
Whatever the truth about Don Sergio, Don Pedro Gotiaoco and his brother Go Kiam Co (who later followed his brother to Cebu City) have left many descendants who are well-known in Philippine society. Prominent among these are Atty. Augusto Go, grandson of Don Pedro Gotiaoco and the President of the
Indeed, the family of Don Pedro Gotiaoco has gone a long way. From humble origins the enterprising and honest Don Pedro Gotiaoco ventured the unknown to become one of the pillars of the Chinese community in
(C) TODD LUCERO SALES, 2012.
This was originally published by this author in Southwall Magazine under the title "Chino Bravo".