Fortitude in and after the war
(Third of four parts)
Davao Global Township (DGT), a P33-billion megaproject set to transform 22 hectares of southern Davao into a world-class commercial, cultural and residential hub, is the brainchild of Jason and Frederick Huang, fifth-generation heirs of Lim Juna, whose origin story we narrated last week.
Lim Juna’s daughter, Luisa had a son, Shui Seng. When the Sino-Japanese War erupted in the late 1930s, Shui Seng and his wife, Tong Ha, together with second child, Josefino (who would become Jason’s dad) left Japan and Taiwan for Davao. Their eldest, Siu Sin remained in Taiwan with Luisa and her husband, Huang Pit Lin. When third son Miguel was born, Shui Seng went to Manila to study accounting at the University of the Philippines, where he graduated with honors and became professor.
Because of his fluency in Nihongo, Shui Seng was forced to become an interpreter for Japanese forces. He could not return to Davao. Later he was captured by Filipino guerillas and died in 1945, at the eve of the Liberation of Manila. He was 29 years old.
Meanwhile, the young widow, Tong Ha and her children stayed in Davao at the patriarch Lim Juna’s home in Claveria. Like her husband, “Tong Ha spoke Nihongo, Fookien, Spanish and acted as interpreter, saving many friends during the war,” recalls Jason.
During the war, the lands owned by the family were taken by the Japanese and they had to flee. “Amah [grandmother] Tong Ha was accommodating, quiet and simple,” says Jason. “But during the war, while pregnant with their youngest and only daughter, Milagros, Amah waded through murky waters while carrying Josefino and Miguel, and a Mama Mary statue, to hide in the shelter. Right after the birth, Amah had to stand up to escape continuous bombings. Our aunt was named Milagros, because it was a miracle how Amah delivered her safely despite the chaos.”
Faith is important for the clan. “Be grateful for the little things and blessings from God our Father,” says Jason. “Pray every day.”
In 1947, Luisa returned to Davao, five years after the death of the patriarch, to claim her inheritance. Unlike traditional Chinese families, where only the sons can inherit, Lim Juna’s two daughters received property shares equal to their brothers. The surviving siblings (the eldest died before their father) worked hard to recover the properties taken by the Japanese.
Tong Ha displayed remarkable work ethic and values. She developed several properties, “personally supervising construction the whole day, taking a break only for meals.” For decades after, she collected the rentals herself, preferring public commute to being driven by the family chauffeur.
Davao’s first residential subdivision, 100 hectares named after Juna, was built in 1952, followed two years after by another first: the 20-hectare Davao City Golf Club, now the site of DGT.
Tong Ha’s son, Josefino, who studied business and law, was a voracious reader of Perry Mason, National Geographic, Newsweek and Time. He kept updated on current events and “for a Filipino-Chinese of his generation, our father spoke and wrote English fluently,” says Jason’s sister Janette Huang-Teves. He could be “amusingly formal” among family members, labelling his packages “To: Janette H. Teves, From: Joe Huang” and ending his notes with “Yours truly, Joe.”
Josefino passed away in 2021. “My father’s heart was with ordinary folks,” Janette says. “He could chatter nonstop with our drivers, gardener, masseuse, painter, mechanic, but would turn silent among peers. But he enjoyed Friday nights out with expatriate friends. Like my mom and Amah, he was not the typical conservative Filipino-Chinese parent and would even join my brothers on their drinking sprees.”
“Treat all people fairly, be they a janitor or a driver,” says Jason. “Show them the respect they deserve. Do not look down on others just because you have a higher economic status. And always give 101 percent in your tasks.”
(To be concluded next week: Raising capable heirs.)
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