Lim Juna, Davao pioneer
(Second of four parts)
In 2016, the Huang Villa-Abrille clan gathered to mark a centennial. On June 28, 1916, the US Court of First Instance granted the title to the lands (on which mega-project Davao Global Township, or DGT, now stands) to patriarch Francisco Villa-Abrille Lim Juna, giving him and his heirs legal ownership.
During the reunion, Janette Huang-Teves, the sister of Jason Huang, one of DGT’s movers, recounted their family history, based on Malu Abella-Lopez’s book “Hijos de Davao,” from which much of the following history is taken.
In 1862, 12-year-old orphan Lim Juna rode a junk boat from Tang Sua, Fujian in Southern China to Manila. He became a pearl diver and a trader in Jolo. He married Tan Sipo, 11 years younger, who had Chinese-Muslim lineage from Pollok, Cotabato, and converted to Islam.
In 1878, the couple went to Davao, where they laid down roots. Among less than two dozen Chinese families in the area, they opened a store in Piapi, and later moved to Claveria Street to manage a bigger one. In 1890, they remarried in Catholic rites at San Pedro Parish and became known as Francisco and Maria Loreto Villa-Abrille, after Davao Spanish Governor-General Faustino Villa-Abrille. They had five children: Ricardo, Carlos, Luisa, Cesareo and Candelaria.
By 1929, of the original Chinese pioneers, Lim Juna was the only one who remained in Davao. In “Reconstructing History from Text and Memory,” historian Macario Tiu writes, “When Juna purchased land in the downtown area, the other Chinese residents joked about it among themselves. Most of the Chinese migrants thought of their stay in the Philippines as only temporary. After earning some money, they planned to go home to China. They did not think of Davao or any place else as their permanent home and therefore thought it foolish that a Chinaman would be buying land, which he could not bring back to China. But Lim indeed belongs to Davao.”
Luna’s grandchildren recall how Ingcong (grandfather) kept his precious pearls in a sack, how they chose their favorite cloths before bolts were sold, how they never ran out of rice or sugar, how Ingcong gave goods for free when the buyer could not pay.
“From our forefather, we learned not to take advantage of other people,” says Jason Huang. “Be trustworthy and stand by your word. With great power comes great responsibility, so use that power to extend a helping hand to others.”
In 1898, the Treaty of Paris made Lim Juna a Filipino citizen. Many Spaniards fled Mindanao and one forced Juna to buy tracts of wilderness for P2,000 across Davao River, in what is now Matina, where DGT would rise a century later. He also owned other properties, some of which he donated to the municipio: the sites of the Post Office, the Boy and Girl Scouts Office, the General Hospital, the Chinese School, and the Puericulture Center; and the roads of what was then Jones Circle; and portions of Uyanguren Street, Tomas Claudio Extension and Acacia Road.
At his death in 1943, at age 93, Lim Juna left five children and numerous descendants. They donated to the government portions of what is now Guerrero Street, Santa Ana Avenue, Juan de la Cruz Street, Jacinto Street, MacArthur Highway, Candelaria Street, Maa Road, Quimpo Boulevard, Tulip Drive and a proposed park along MacArthur Highway.
In 1969, Lim Juna was granted posthumously Davao’s highest honor as a Datu Bago awardee. Villa-Abrille Street was also named after him.
Jason and his cousins Frederick and Susan Huang, who form the DGT consortium, are descendants of Juna’s daughter Luisa. Luisa went to China and married Huang Pit Lin, and they migrated to Taiwan when their son Shui Seng was five. In 1935, Shui Seng married Iap Tong Ha, who came from Kaoshiong, and they went to Kobe, Japan where Shui Seng trained in Nestle headquarters. Their second son Josefino would become the father of Jason, Janette and their brother Jasper Huang.
(Next: The next generations)
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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