There is no proof of this Chinaman’s existence aside from the hundreds of family members who have sprouted from his lineage, including the 17th President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr.
By Eliza Romualdez-Valtos
Family oral history tells me I am a descendant of a Chinaman named Pei Ling Po, who left his home to find a better future. There are no records found of a Pei Ling Po. There are no surviving historical documents or proof of his existence aside from the hundreds of family members who have sprouted from his lineage. He was said to have owned a shop in Chinatown, Binondo. One day he met Justa de los Angeles, the sister of a coadjutor of the Pandacan Church. He fell in love and proposed marriage. She said yes on the condition that he converted to Christianity.
Pei Ling Po, as the story goes, was baptized by a Father Romualdo. He adopted the name Romualdo and added the suffix “ez” meaning “son of,” generating the name Romualdez. Since then, he had purportedly gone by the name of Luis Romualdez.
Our family may never know the truth about Pei Ling Po but one thing is certain, the Romualdezes, like many Filipinos, have Chinese blood as indicated in Spanish documents classifying Luis Romualdez’s children, whose names were registered in Spanish census reports in the 1800s, as Sangley mestizo, a term used during Spanish times to describe a person of mixed Chinese and native ancestry.
Growing up, I wondered what life was like for my paternal Chinese forefathers during Spanish times. It couldn’t have been easy. Recently I visited the Chinatown Museum at Lucky Chinatown Mall in Binondo. The museum offers snippets of what it must have been like for the Chinese living in the Philippines through time.
Close to 200 years ago, Spain appointed Captain General Narciso Claveria y Zaldua governor to the Philippines. Claveria issued a law that required all Filipinos to choose a family name from a book with about 6,000 names called the Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos. Before 1849, Filipinos had no systematic naming system in the colony. The name Romualdez was not among the names offered in the book. So where did Romualdez come from?
In a letter from the Real Academia de la Historia in Madrid Spain, the overall institution that manages all things historical in Spain, it was concluded that the surname Romualdez was generated in a country of Hispanic tradition and very likely originated in the Philippines. Its most likely origin is Romualdo, a name often seen in records predating Spanish documents in the Philippines where the first Romualdez names began to appear in Felipe Neri (present-day Mandaluyong) and Pandacan.
My paternal great-grandmother Trinidad Lopez was married to third-generation Pandaceño Daniel Romualdez in 1871. Daniel was the grandson of Luis Romualdez. Trinidad was the daughter of then Pandacan parish priest, Fray Francisco Lopez from Granada in Spain. The track record of Catholic priests having children has been documented for some time now. In fact, this indiscretion has been depicted by Jose Rizal in his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo,novels that ignited the flames of the Philippine revolution against Spain.
Trinidad and Daniel had three sons—Norberto, Miguel, and Vicente Orestes, my grandfather. All three were students at the Ateneo Municipal in Intramuros at the outbreak of the 1896 revolution. When Andres Bonifacio and his revolutionary troops surrounded the walled city, attacking the surrounding arrabales or suburbs, Intramuros went into lockdown. Ateneo had suspended classes and the three Romualdez boys from Leyte (Norberto 21, Miguel 17, and Vicente Orestes 11) were stranded in Manila. It took them a few months to finally book a passage home.
One weekend at Fort Santiago in Intramuros, I was able to witness the Republica Filipina Reenactment Group. Founded in 2019, it primarily focuses on Philippine-Hispanic military history between 1896 and 1903. It was like watching the black and white images of century-old books jump out of the pages, turn into color, and come alive before me. In photos, according to Philippine Revolution costume expert Eng. Pedro Javier, one sometimes may mistake our revolutionary troops as a ragtag group of men with mismatched uniforms, having only the Rayadillo uniform (consisting of very thin blue white vertical stripes) as a common feature. The accoutrements of a soldier’s uniform varied depending on where they were taken as spoils of war or loot from a successful raid and or from whom, say, a Spanish soldier or, later, from an American during the Filipino-American War. As for footwear, Javier said most revolutionary soldiers were barefoot. Wearing footwear, especially boots, could be excruciatingly painful and confining.
My great grandfather Daniel Romualdez was 21 years old when he became cabeza de barangay in Pandacan in 1871. For health reasons he decided to relocate his family to Leyte in 1879. Meanwhile, his uncles Silvestre and Manuel Romualdez served as gobernadorcillo in nearby Felipe Neri. As cabeza de barangay, one’s main task was to collect taxes. The cabeza was exempt from tax but if he came short, he would have to go out of pocket. The gobernadorcillo, on the other hand, was the leader of the town and the municipal judge, responsible for the appointments of leaders. He was tasked with the administration of all judicial and economic matters.
A few years after arriving in Leyte, Daniel became a gobernadorcillo of Tolosa. The positions of cabeza de barangay and gobernadorcillo were appointed positions and Spanish records show appointments to municipal posts repeatedly came from the same families. These families were known collectively as the principalia.
When Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain, Daniel was appointed the new consejero de policia or counselor of police on the island of Leyte. When the Philippines fell into American colonial hands in 1900, he was made Justice of the Peace in Tacloban until his death in 1909. His children, Norbert and Miguel, were also handed government positions during American rule. Their youngest brother, Vicente Orestes, was a notary public at 20 years old and, upon the death of Daniel, took over his father’s position as Justice of the Court of First Instance in Tacloban in 1909. In the years after their father’s death, one son would be Supreme Court Justice and one of the seven wise men appointed to draft the 1935 Philippine constitution (Norberto), another son would be the sixth mayor of Manila (Miguel), and the third son would be Justice of Peace in Tacloban and dean of law at St. Paul’s College in the Leyte capital (Vicente Orestes).
It did cross my mind to ask how my great grandfather Daniel managed to hold positions in all three governments—the Spanish colonial administration, Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government, and the American regime. This balancing feat intrigued me. Apparently, the appointments of my forebearers reflected the colonizers’ tradition of picking educated, well-entrenched members of the community to help convince the rest of the population to cooperate. The continued influence of these incumbent “political power holders,” however, depended on how well they kept both the community and the powers content. A great balancing act and no mean feat indeed!
The generations succeeding Daniel have had its fair share of public servants. They won and they lost depending on their performance. Since the time of Daniel’s children (Norberto, Miguel, and Vicente Orestes), the Romualdezes have served as senators and congressmen, two of them becoming Speaker of the House—Daniel Z. Romualdez and Martin G. Romualdez. They have also held municipal and provincial positions in Leyte (Mayoral position: Alfredo Romualdez, Alfred Romualdez and Cristina G. Romualdez; Governor position Benjamin T. Romualdez); In Ilocos Norte (Governor position: Mathew M. Manotoc); and in Guam (Mayoral Position: Robert Hoffman).
I wonder if Pei Ling Po a.k.a. Luis Romualdez, when he set off from China, had any inkling that his descendants would fare this way in this land far away from his birthplace. Could he have imagined that one day his descendants would serve this country and beyond in all branches of government, one even reaching the pinnacle of government service as the 17th President of the Philippines.
Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos is the son of Imelda, grandson of Vicente Orestes, great-grandson of Daniel, great-great-grandson of Julian, and great-great-great-grandson of Pei Ling Po.Note: In my previous article I said among Joel MV Bilbao’s works was ‘Luna.’ Joel was not involved in the film