Cory’s tree foretold son’s unlikely rise to power
ZHANGZHOU, China—Residents of a small village in China’s Fujian province believe an evergreen that the late President Corazon Aquino had planted when she visited the Hongjian hometown of her Chinese ancestors more than two decades ago foretold her son’s rise to power when it split to grow two treetops.
On his visit to his ancestral village Saturday, however, President Benigno Aquino III seemed to put a damper to such speculation, attributing the araucaria’s (variety of evergreen) splitting into two branches to the laws of nature rather than being a portent of his destiny.
“Before I arrived here, I was told that years ago, on its own, this tree split in two. Nature has its own laws and surely this natural phenomenon was not a prophecy for I never aspired to reach the same heights and achieve the same success as my mother,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech before Hongjian villagers, including his relatives from the Xu or Co clan.
“And yet, by the will of my people, I stand here in the same position she occupied—as President of the Philippines—bearing the same responsibility she had, to change peoples’ lives for the better,” he added.
The President traced the steps that his late mother took when she visited Hongjian in 1988 and traced her roots there, saying she was a daughter of the village.
Mr. Aquino went to see the araucaria tree that his mother had planted, now more than 10 meters tall with two treetops of almost similar height.
Incense at temple
Just as his mother did during her visit 23 years ago, the President lit incense at the temple of his Xu clan and planted a tree in the village park.
Loud firecrackers, dragon dancers and drums welcomed the President as he arrived in a stretch limousine in Hongjian, a village in the suburbs of Zhangzhou.
He was welcomed by Zhangzhou officials and his relatives from the Xu clan.
Cory Aquino was a fourth-generation Chinese-Filipino descended from Xu Yuhuan, a Chinese immigrant from Hongjian who settled in the Philippines in 1861.
Co Yu Hwan later converted to Catholicism and was renamed Jose Cojuangco. His son, Melencio, was born in 1871. Melencio married another Chinese Filipino named Tiakla Chico in 1894 and among their children was Jose Cojuangco, the father of Cory Aquino.
“Today, a seed planted by your forefathers far away has come back to sit in the shade of the ancestral tree,” Mr. Aquino said to an audience of kinsmen during a brief ceremony at the Hongjian Park.
“It is an honor to see the ancestral hall of the family Xu and to see the tree my mother planted 23 years ago. I cannot help but recall the gracious words of Premier Wen: the tree your mother planted has flourished and put in deep roots,” he said.
Grateful for Cory honors
He expressed his gratitude to the people of Hongjian for continuing to honor Cory Aquino and for dedicating the Philippines-China friendship hall in the park to her memory.
“I am grateful to all of you for the honor you continue to give to my mother. I was particularly happy to hear that the soon-to-be finished Sino-Philippines Friendship Memorial Hall in this park will be dedicated to her memory,” he said.
Consul General Adelio Angelito Cruz told Palace media members accompanying the President how Hongjian villagers have made a connection between the araucaria—a tree that grows straight up like the pine tree with a main branch—splitting to grow two branches and Mr. Aquino’s unlikely rise to the presidency.
“While the araucaria tree was growing, its trunk split into two and now the tree has two tops of equal height. When this happened, villagers took it as a sign that another branch from the former President’s family would rise up and achieve the same stature as the mother who planted the tree,” Cruz said.
“Indeed, history proved them right when then Senator Benigno Aquino III won the presidential election of 2010. Hongjian villagers now take this as the fulfillment of the event foreshadowed by the tree top splitting into two with both sections growing to equal height,” he added.
All surnamed Co
Cruz said Hongjian is a rural village near the border of Xiamen’s Haicang District and Zhangzhou that is home to 1,700 residents all surnamed Co, some of whom have traceable blood relations to the President.
He said 85 percent of Chinese-Filipinos trace their roots to Fujian, particularly in the cities of Xiamen, Zhangzhou, Quangzhou, Jinjiang and Shishi.
These include prominent ethnic Chinese businessmen in the Philippines like Henry Sy, John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, George Ty and Tony Tan Caktiong. Even national hero Jose Rizal can trace his ancestors to southern Fujian, he said.
“In Beijing and Shanghai, whenever I was asked how I felt about coming here, I said that I wanted to see the land where so many successful Chinese Filipino came from. I wanted to see the landscape that gave birth to so many who braved long journeys, to settle in a foreign land, to build families, homes and successful enterprises,” Mr. Aquino said in his speech.
“Their success brought not only prosperity, but honor to their kinsmen, whether in the Philippines or China,” he added.
How to look back
He said he wanted to make these relationships even stronger and to make certain that the friendly relations “are built on the shared principle that our efforts ultimately improve the lives of our respective peoples.”
“In my country we have a saying: that if one is to move forward, one must know how to look back. So I would like to thank the people of Hongjian—all my distant cousins, aunts and uncles—for their warm welcome, and for being among the many who give me the strength to carry on and succeed,” Mr. Aquino said.
After his visit to Hongjian village, President Aquino and his official delegation motored to the Xiamen airport for his trip back to Manila.
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