MANILA, July 27 , 2004 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores -  "...And God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it, and created the horse..." – Bedouin Legend

What do young corporate leaders Lance Yu Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings, Michael G. Tan of Asia Brewery Inc., Arthur V. Ty of Metrobank Group, Lucio "Bong" Tan Jr. of Fortune Tobacco and Agriculture Secretary & National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Arthur C. Yap have in common?

We classify them as the Fire Horse Generation of Philippine business, since most of them were born from January 21, 1966 to February 8, 1967 which is the very unique Fire Horse zodiac sign considered more powerful than even the auspicious dragon sign in ancient Chinese and Oriental horoscope. There was only one other Fire Horse period in the 20th century and it covered people born between January 25, 1906 to February 12, 1907.

Throughout Asia – from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong all the way to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – people traditionally believe that every lunar year is assigned an animal name or sign according to a repeating cycle – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar. Added to these 12-year cycles are the Five Elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. The rare convergence of Horse and Fire is considered the most auspicious and the most awesome union possible.

In Japanese culture, people born in this year of the Fire Horse are called hinoeuma. In ancient East Asian tradition, the huo ma or Fire Horse is a special birth sign entailing either spectacular good luck and success, or also possibly terrible misfortune, because nothing about the Fire Horse supposedly occurs in moderation. It is believed that whatever passions the Horse person normally possesses is multiplied many, many times over when a person is born in that rare Year of the Fire Horse.

An American woman and herself born in the Fire Horse year, Janis Cortese said that all over Asia, "Horses are seen as outgoing, people-loving, ambitious, rebellious, and independent. They are supposedly freedom-loving and impossible to contain… Since fire is already voracious and powerful, the combination of the fire and the power of the horse is seen as an almost uncontrollably independent mixture by believers in Chinese astrology."

Cortese also mentions: "In almost all cultures, from ancient China, Korea, Mongolia, Europe to Arabia, the horse is prized as a symbol of energy, vigor, leadership, nobility, physical grace, hard work, success and optimism. In the Asian zodiac, people born in the horse year are considered fortunate and blessed. However, that rare birth sign of the Fire Horse is considered even more auspicious.

"Asian tradition claims that a Fire Horse is a dynamic creature, with a vigor that promises youth and freshness until the very end of life. The will and the spirit of the Fire Horse cannot be broken. This Horse goes through life with philosophical patience and the ability to bounce back from adversity no matter how dire the circumstances. In times of solitude, Fire Horses also have an insatiable need for intellectual stimulation and they satisfy their curiosity for learning through reading, listening, conversing and traveling abroad. Fire Horses make inspiring leaders who are revered and respected. They encourage their subordinates with kindness and just the right degree of strictness. They work well with people in all stations of life… Being in love with the Fire Horse brings pure rapture. These noble Horses are generous with their love… Loved ones always know where they stand because Fire Horses demonstrate every day through their actions the love they feel deep within. Each day is a soft and tender love poem."

Combining Eastern Values & Western Education

Lance is the only son of pioneer industrialist John Gokongwei Jr.; Mike and Bong are same-age sons of Philippine Airlines/Fortune Tobacco/Allied Bank/Asia Brewery chairman Lucio Tan; Arthur is the son and heir apparent of Metrobank Group taipan George S.K. Ty; and Arthur is the eldest son of industrialist and Makati Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce leader Domingo Chua.

Coincidentally, they graduated from different high schools in 1983. Lance from the prestigious Anglo-Chinese Secondary School in Singapore, Mike and Bong both graduated in the same class from the state-run Dunman High School in Singapore, Arthur graduated from Taipei American School in Taiwan, and Arthur graduated from Xavier School in the Philippines.

Lance Gokongwei is best remembered by the public for his decisive handling of a Cebu Pacific plane crash crisis. Cited by World Economic Forum as one of the "global leaders for tomorrow," Lance studied business at Wharton School of Finance and applied sciences at the Moore School of Engineering, both in the University of Pennsylvania. He finished BS Finance and BS Applied Science degrees in three and a half years with the highest summa cum laude honors. His wife Mary Joyce "Jay" Leong is a graduate of Columbia University, whose parents were originally business people from Manila who migrated to Hawaii during the martial law era. Up to this day, the certificate of the rare academic honors achieved by Lance in the university can be seen hanging on the wall of his father’s office. Lance is actively involved in his family’s philanthropic foundation, the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation.

Mike and Bong both studied in China’s prestigious Beijing University for two years of intensive Mandarin studies and they had to write a Chinese-language letter to their father Lucio Tan every month. They both lived in the spartan university dormitory for Chinese scholars, not the dorm for foreign students. Mike later studied civil engineering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where he would meet his future wife Angeline "Angie" Ng, daughter of Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) past president and steel magnate John K. C. Ng. Coincidentally, Angie’s elder brother Michael "Mike" Ng is a former classmate of Mike Tan and part of the Fire Horse Generation. Mike’s father Lucio C. Tan is also honorary president of the FFCCCII.

Mike Tan, who graduated from college with the highest academic honors, says, "Our generation is not really that interesting to write about, because we only inherited our businesses. I’m actually more interested and inspired by the experiences of the courageous and hardworking self-made entrepreneurs who built fortunes from scratch all by themselves."

After going to Beijing University, the athletic Bong Tan later went on to study at the University of California, Davis in the US, where he would meet his Taiwanese Chinese wife. In UC-Davis, Bong studied a triple major on civil engineering, mathematics and linguistics (specializing in Ancient Chinese Classics and Mandarin). Both Bong and Mike support their father’s Tan Yan Kee Foundation named in memory of their late grandfather, and which focuses on education and public health causes.

Like Lance, Mike and Bong, the parents of Arthur Ty wanted their son to imbibe the best of East Asian Confucian values and Western management education by sending him to Taiwan for high school and later to the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US. Two years after college, Arthur took up his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Columbia University. After his studies, he worked and trained in a small investment bank in Hong Kong for one year.

Few people know that Arthur Ty started out once as a 10-year-old messenger boy for the family-controlled Metrobank, where he learned lessons in humility, discipline and hard work. During summer vacations, he would work as messenger or clerk in various departments of the bank. His wife is the daughter of one of the country’s top ethnic Chinese business clans in the candy manufacturing business. Coincidentally, Arthur’s younger brother Alfred Ty of Toyota Motors Philippines Corporation is married to Mike Tan’s younger sister Cherry Tan-Ty. Like his siblings, Arthur supports the family’s Metrobank Foundation, which has become one of the country’s biggest philanthropic institutions well known for aggressively supporting arts, education and public health causes.

Arthur Cua Yap studied Management Economics at the Ateneo de Manila University where he already excelled in student politics as class representative and where he later took up law at the Ateneo Law School. One of his economics professors was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Among his classmates in the GMA macroeconomics class included the Cebuano Chiongbian clan’s eldest scion William "Willy" Chiongbian, also part of the Fire Horse Generation. Arthur Yap’s wife is businesswoman Carol Gaw Yap, daughter of Uniwide Group taipan Jimmy Gaw.

Arthur was busy helping his father’s paint manufacturing factory and in his law practice when he joined government after EDSA 2 as chief executive officer of the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). An agency that assists small exporters, the PITC was a mess that used to lose money as much as P30 million per year. Arthur Yap turned around this cash-strapped state firm into a profitable enterprise before President Gloria Arroyo appointed him as administrator of the National Food Administration (NFA) to replace her other Ateneo economics student Anthony Abad.

Former NFA administrator Abad was under fire for the rising prices of rice as a consequence of a mild El Niño and he wanted to get out of government. Abad and Yap were both summoned to Malacañang Palace where the President ordered both of them to switch positions, with Abad heading PITC and Yap going to NFA. Arthur Yap recalled, "I will never forget that day – September 13, 2002. And it was Friday the 13th. For the first time in my life, I felt a huge challenge. From that meeting I went straight to the St. Jude Shrine beside the Palace to cry." (St. Jude is the patron saint for lost causes.)

Arthur Yap was appointed Agriculture Undersecretary for Luzon operations early this year before he was recently promoted to Agriculture Secretary to replace Cito Lorenzo after the election. Yap said that his dream is for the Philippines to eventually achieve rice self-sufficiency, that there shall be affordable rice for all Filipino families and that reviving agricultural productivity will help eradicate massive rural poverty in the countryside.

Last year, Lance, Mike, Arthur, Mike Ng and other peers led by Xavier School Batch ’83 Foundation president and garments entrepreneur Arnold Velasco (great-grandson of 19th century Chinese taipan Mariano Velasco Chua Chengco who pioneered department stores in the Philippines with his famed Bazaar Velasco in Binondo) donated the new Chinese Multi-Media Center to Xavier School, which has high-tech computers to improve the quality of Chinese language education for the youth.

Arnold Velasco’s grandfather Jose Velasco was also invited by his late classmate Michael Yuchengco Dee’s great-grandfather Dee C. Chuan to establish the pioneering China Banking Corporation in 1920. Coincidentally, the signatories in the commemorative plaque representing the donors of the Chinese Multi-Media Center to Xavier School were Arnold Velasco, Michael Tan, Arthur Yap and Michael Ng. They believe that since the Chinese language is the world’s ultimate international language of business and diplomacy in the 21st century, it is important to promote better quality Chinese language education in the Philippines.

Arnold Velasco said apart from that, their group also has other low-profile socio-civic projects like donating playrooms for two government-run hospitals such as the Rizal Medical Center in Pasig and the National Children’s Medical Hospital in E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City. This project is undertaken in cooperation with the Department of Health (DOH). Their group has also given scholarships to 12 poor Aeta children in coordination with European Jesuit priest Fr. Santos Mena, S.J., because they strongly share their parents’ belief that education is one effective way to combat massive poverty and social injustices.

Can the young and well-educated members of the Fire Horse generation make a positive difference in our daunting state of the nation today? Can they and their peers help overhaul the grossly inefficient and uncompetitive Philippine economy, despite all the age-old political woes that bedevil our society where bad politics has sabotaged and stifled good economics for decades?

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Thanks for all your messages. Comments and suggestions are welcome at or or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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