YANGCO, Teodoro R.

YANGCO, Teodoro R.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
1861–1939

Biography

Known as the “Rockefeller of the Philippines,” Teodoro Yangco, whose business acumen and wealth made him the islands’ leading philanthropist, enjoyed a brief, symbolic term as a Resident Commissioner in the U.S. Congress. Yangco followed in the tradition of Benito Legarda and Manuel Earnshaw when he was selected as one of the islands’ two concurrent Resident Commissioners on a track reserved for leading industrialists and merchants. These men tended to be gradualists on the independence question as opposed to their colleagues, who came from overtly political backgrounds and tended to espouse the popular will of Filipinos who favored immediate autonomy. But as a staunch ally of Manuel L. Quezon, who sometimes disagreed with his friend on tactics but not objectives, Yangco believed that, in the wake of the Jones Act, full freedom remained the central aspiration for Filipinos. “I am a business man and have [been] much involved in this question of Philippine independence,” Yangco noted in 1919. “I am supposed to be a conservative. I believe still the time has come for independence. We are grateful to America for the great things she has done for us, and our desire now to separate from her side is only the natural desire of the child when he comes of age to leave the care and control of a parent.”1

Teodoro Rafael Yangco was born in San Antonio, Zambales Province, Philippines, on November 9, 1861, the only child of the troubled union of “Capitan” Luis Rafael Yangco, a wealthy entrepreneur and industrialist, and Ramona Arguelles. When Teodoro was four, his father built a grocery store in Manila and moved away to manage it. For six years, Ramona raised Teodoro alone in San Antonio, where private tutors educated the boy. In 1871, at the beckoning of Luis, 10-year-old Teodoro traveled 120 miles to live with his father and attend Ateneo de Manila University, one of the Philippines’ most prominent finishing schools. His father eventually remarried to Victorina Obin, and from this union Teodoro gained three step-siblings: Pacita, Luisa, and Luisito.2 Teodoro graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a bachelor of arts degree in 1880. He enrolled in the law program at the University of Santo Tomas for one year, but his father encouraged him to pursue a commercial degree instead of law. Yangco studied business in Madrid for a year but left disgusted. “Except for the fact that I was entitled to a vacation,” he recalled, “my time was wasted. I learned little or nothing of value.” Yangco moved on to Ealing College, a small school in West London, where he lived between 1882 and 1886.3

Upon returning to the Philippines in 1887, Yangco worked for his father to learn the business from the ground up. As a self-made entrepreneur, Luis Yangco did not provide his son any special favors and, in fact, verged on being overbearing. “Now Teodoro,” he said, “you’ll work as a clerk in my office. Don’t think that simply because you have studied in Europe you can be a manager right away.” A salaried employee, Yangco clerked and slowly worked his way up to manager after a 10-year apprenticeship. His father garnished his wages during that time, using that money to construct a private department store, Bazar Siglo XX (Twentieth Century Bazaar), in Teodoro’s name. During the 1896 Philippine Revolution, when Luis was arrested and imprisoned for six months, Teodoro managed the family business. As a reward for his successful work, Yangco received a hefty raise and 13 ships to start his own business. He continued to manage his father’s firm while, in his spare time, building his own shipping company.4

In 1907 Teodoro broke ties permanently with his father when Luis accused his son of using “insulting language” and abruptly disinherited him. Undeterred, the younger Yangco formed a transportation firm that managed shipyards and shuttled commercial merchandise. Its reach was extensive, as it operated between eight cities throughout the Philippines. Additionally, Yangco was the proprietor of the Twentieth Century Bazaar store, started a dry dock and slipway operation, and expanded his real estate holdings. As a director of the Philippine National Bank and president of the Philippines Chamber of Commerce, Yangco worked with numerous government and business officials throughout the Philippines.5

Philanthropy became a central aspect of Yangco’s life—which, by all accounts, was simple and unostentatious, given the magnitude of his wealth. He sponsored projects such as the building of schools and playgrounds around the country. Yangco also sponsored a number of Filipino students who studied in Europe and the United States.6 The pious, lifelong bachelor was particularly active in charity work for children and even adopted several boys. Two boys, Lucio and Simplicio Godino, were conjoined twins whom he adopted in 1919 after their mother’s death, saving them from being relegated to life as a circus act.7

Yangco toured the United States during the time of the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco and visited a number of cities, including Washington, New York, and Chicago. A tall man with wavy dark hair and deep-set eyes beneath large brows, he made favorable impressions on American captains of industry, such as International Harvesters’ Cyrus McCormick.8 In several news interviews, he stressed Filipinos’ desire for eventual independence and their satisfaction with Governor General Francis Burton Harrison. Yangco, who believed that Filipinos were not ready to govern themselves immediately, endorsed a protectorate system as the nation moved toward independence.9

With the passage of the Jones Act in the waning months of the 64th Congress (1915–1917), the Resident Commissioners’ political emphases were in transition. The new law provided a path to independence that, initially, did not seem to require the vocal advocacy that had long been the approach of past Resident Commissioners, most notably Manuel Quezon. By the start of the 65th Congress (1917–1919), American critics pointed to Philippine politicians’ “excessive” focus on achieving Philippine independence at the expense of its economic development.10 This type of criticism reinforced the need for a Resident Commissioner with sterling business credentials.

These factors weighed on Quezon and Philippine assembly speaker Sergio Osmeña as they considered candidates to succeed Manuel Earnshaw. Newly elected to the Philippine senate, Quezon exercised considerable control over the selection process. In late 1916, he approached Yangco and offered him the Resident Commissioner post. Yangco initially refused Quezon’s offer, noting that it was a “fixed principle of his life” to stay out of politics. But Quezon, with whom Yangco had an almost fraternal bond, eventually persuaded his friend; Yangco himself recognized “the vital necessity of sending a recognized business leader to represent the aspirations of the Filipino people.” Quezon later described why Yangco was an ideal choice, noting, “We need a man in the United States who is deeply interested in our institutions as well as in the development of our natural resources.”11

On January 10, 1917, the Philippine assembly elected Yangco by a nearly unanimous 68 votes (two other opposition candidates garnered a single vote each). The legislature simultaneously elected Jaime de Veyra—a newspaperman-turned-politician—to serve alongside Yangco in the other Resident Commissioner slot.12 News coverage in the United States pointed to the different roles de Veyra and Yangco would play. The former “was named to represent the political aspirations of the Filipino people, while Yangco will represent the business interests—a division of labor that has been followed in the appointment of Philippine resident commissioners since the office was first created.”13 The Cablenews-American approvingly noted that Yangco’s “broad sympathy with all modern progress, whether social, political or industrial, especially fits him to represent the Philippines in Washington, under this new phase of relations between the Islands and the United States.” Before leaving the Philippines, Yangco conducted a fact-finding trip to assess the islands’ business needs. Shortly before his departure for Washington in early April 1917, the Cablenews-American described him as “the right man for the place,” one who would follow in “Earnshaw’s shoes.”14

In a legislative sense, Yangco’s service was remarkably threadbare. Part of this lack of production derived from the institutional roadblocks that greeted every Resident Commissioner. House Rules circumscribed their powers—most notably preventing them from holding a committee assignment or voting on the House Floor. During his three-year term, overlapping with parts of the 65th and 66th Congresses (1917–1921), the Congressional Record mostly just notes his attendance. After taking his seat on May 1, 1917, Yangco gave just two floor speeches in that span, both of which eulogized the life of William A. Jones of Virginia, chairman of the Insular Affairs Committee and sponsor of the bill that bore his name and set the Philippines on the long path to eventual independence. Yangco was also appointed to Jones’s funeral committee. But he authored no bills or resolutions, nor did he follow the example of other Resident Commissioners by offering testimony to the various congressional committees considering legislation that might affect the Philippines. Whereas his colleague Jaime de Veyra served as a vocal advocate for Philippine independence in the mold of Quezon, Yangco had a far less overtly political role. While Resident Commissioners generally straddled a line between being legislators and diplomats, Yangco especially appears to have been more focused on representing Filipino institutions and business interests far outside the hall of the House.15

Yangco and Quezon enjoyed warm relations for many years, but a lingering strain seemed to fall upon their friendship, in part because of Quezon’s pragmatic political wrangling that ushered the Jones Act into law. Yangco disapproved of Quezon’s support for the Clarke Amendment to the Jones Act of 1916, which promised independence for the Philippines rather quickly after the law’s enactment. Like many business elites who valued the trade relationship in place with the United States, Yangco at first preferred a slower, more incremental path to independence.16 Quezon, too, professed to support graduated independence, an ideal embodied in the original language of the Jones Act. But looking to pacify independence supporters in Washington and Manila who backed the Clarke Amendment, Quezon publicly supported it (Congress later stripped the fast-track provision from the final legislation). Yangco questioned Quezon’s political expediency. In 1917, when Yangco first arrived in Washington to assume his duties as Resident Commissioner, Quezon invited him to stay at his home. Yangco reluctantly accepted and, when he arrived, left his baggage at the curb while knocking on Quezon’s door. “I did not bring it,” Yangco explained, “because before I accept your hospitality I want you to know that I am opposed to your policies.” The outgoing Resident Commissioner put his arm around Yangco and gently ribbed him, “You are a saint.” Later he would tell Yangco, “If all my friends were as frank and sincere with me as you are, I would be a different man.”17

Whatever his personal inclinations, Yangco’s work in Washington undergirded the push for independence in the waning years of the Woodrow Wilson administration. But Yangco provided implicit proof for Filipinos’ fitness for self-rule almost exclusively through his personal example as a cultured philanthropist and business elite rather than through Quezon-like political maneuvering.

Yangco settled in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood in a residence he shared with his staff assistant, a chef, two servants, a chauffeur, and three adopted children.18 His biographer maintains that, while he entertained at many of the city’s finest hotels, he also kept his distance from the political intrigue of the wartime capital and “quietly evaded all attempts to make him a party to the artificiality and insincerity that characterized” its social life. Yangco also continued his philanthropic activities by giving generously to the American Red Cross—notably outbidding the financier Bernard Baruch during a wartime DC charity gala—and helping to save one of the capital’s African-American churches from lapsing into foreclosure.19 This charitable aspect of his time in DC won wide press coverage, and that seemed to be the point. In many respects, he served as a cultural ambassador whose refinement, wealth, and generosity countered coarse stereotypes about Filipinos and perceptions that the islands’ political elite were calculating opportunists.20

Yangco, of course, also helped to promulgate business opportunities for the islands. He and colleague Jaime de Veyra played support roles when the First Independence Mission visited the United States in spring 1919. Led by Quezon and drawing from the islands’ leading political class, technocrats, and businessmen, the mission included a special committee focused on commerce, Yangco’s area of expertise. In late 1919, Yangco and de Veyra encouraged the formation of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce, a New York-based group dedicated to promoting trade relations between the United States and the Philippines.21 After the mission departed, the Resident Commissioners also oversaw the establishment of a Philippine press bureau, which sought to carry on the public relations work initiated by the delegation. With a small staff in Washington and an agent in New York, the bureau’s mission was to distribute print materials about the Philippines to U.S. media outlets.22

In February 1920, Yangco announced that he would resign as Resident Commissioner, noting that he was eager to return home to attend to his large business empire. He did not, however, give up his role of being an ambassador of Filipino business, representing the Philippine Chamber of Commerce at the Pan-Pacific Commercial Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. Yangco continued to advocate for Filipino independence as he traveled the world and raised his children.23 He provided scholarships for students and gave to numerous charities and civic organizations on the islands, including the Young Men’s Christian Association, for which he was dubbed the “father of the YMCA in the Philippines.” On April 20, 1939, Teodoro Yangco died in Manila at age 77 after a series of complications from pneumonia. His remains were interred in the Manila North Cemetery.24

Footnotes

1George T. Shoens, “Free Philippines Now,” 11 May 1919, New York Times: 36.

2Samuel W. Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco:Leading Filipino Philanthropist and Grand Old Man of Commerce (Manila, PI: University of the Philippines, 1934): 45–51.

3Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 59; Demetrio E. Ruiz Jr., “Teodoro Rafael Yangco: His Life and Business Career, 1861–1939,” (master’s thesis, University of Santo Tomas, Philippines, 1975): 65, 69–72.

4Ruiz, “Teodoro Rafael Yangco”: 89, 93–101.

5“Teodoro R. Yangco,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, http//bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=Y000004; “Old Yangco Disinherits His Elder Son, Teodoro,” 19 October 1907, Manila Times: 1; “Teodoro R. Yangco Passes Away at 77,” 21 April 1939, Manila Tribune: 4; Zoilo M. Galang, ed., Leaders of the Philippines: Inspiring Biographies of Successful Men and Women of the Philippines (Manila, PI: National Publishing Company, 1932): 55–56; Luis Yangco quotation from Gregorio F. Zaide, ed., Great Filipinos in History: An Epic of Filipino Greatness in War and Peace (Manila, PI: Verde Book Store, 1970): 630–631. For an extensive description of Yangco’s business empire, see Ruiz, “Teodoro Rafael Yangco,” chapters 6–8.

6Fernando A. Bernardo, Silent Storms: Inspiring Lives of 101 Great Filipinos (Pasig City, PI: Anvil, 2000): 221–223; “Leader of Business in Manila is Here,” 12 December 1915, San Francisco Chronicle: 24; “Yangco Pensionado Goes,” 29 September 1918, Manila Times: 2; Congressional Directory, 66th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919): 129. Dubbed pensionados, many of the students returned to the Philippines as civil servants. Yangco also defrayed the expenses of training the first group of Filipino nurses at a Manila hospital.

7“Filipinos, Aged 11, Quarrel Seldom and Are Very Active and Healthy,” 25 November 1919, San Francisco Chronicle: 13; “Twins, Joined Together, Visiting Boys Are Opposed to Operation,” 25 November 1919, San Francisco Chronicle: 13.

8Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 125–131; “Leader in Business of Manila Is Here,” 12 December 1915, San Francisco Chronicle: 24.

9“Leader in Business of Manila Is Here”; “Tribal Feeling Block to Rule by Filipinos,” 21 February 1916, Christian Science Monitor: 8; “Filipinos Not Yet Ready for Freedom,” 21 April 1916, The Republic (Rockford, IL): 1.

10Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 135–136. See also “Practical Politics in Philippines,” 9 September 1915, Indianapolis Star: 8.

11Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 136.

12Diaro de Sesiones de la Cámara de Representantes vol. 12 (Manila, PI: Manila Bureau of Printing, 1918): 430–431; Teodoro R. Yangco Certificate of Election (endorsed March 17, 1917), Committee on Elections (HR65-AJ1), 65th Congress, Records of the U.S. Houseof Representatives, Record Group 233, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC; “Yangco and Veyra Chosen to be Resident Commissioners to U.S.,” 11 January 1917, Cablenews-American (Manila, PI): 1; “The New Resident Commissioners,” 12 January 1917, Cablenews-American (Manila, PI): 6.

13“Two Filipinos Appointed Resident Commissioners,” 11 March 1917, Indianapolis Star: 2.

14“The New Resident Commissioners”; “The Right Man for the Place,” 28 March 1917, Cablenews-American (Manila, PI): 6; “Yangco Goes to Learn of Trade,” 6 March 1917, Manila Times: 2.

15Congressional Record, House, 65th Cong., 1st sess. (1 May 1917): 1659; Congressional Record, Index, 65th Cong., 2nd sess.: 375; Congressional Record, Index, 65th Cong., 3rd sess.: 225; Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 137. Stagg suggests Yangco and colleague Jaime de Veyra helped to secure tariff legislation that benefited the Philippines, but no record of such a bill is listed in the Congressional Record, nor is there committee testimony that alludes to such legislation.

16“Filipinos Not Yet Ready for Freedom”; “Tribal Feeling Block to Rule by Filipinos.”

17Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 140–141, 163–167.

18Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920: Population, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll T625_210, sheet 2B, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed 8 February 2016).

19“Yangco Donates On Eve of Departure,” 5 April 1917, Cablenews-American (Manila, PI) 2; Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 140, 143–146, 151–152.

20“Filipinos to Help Win War,” 1 October 1917, Washington Post: 8; “Philippine Issue to be Discussed,” 8 December 1917, Christian Science Monitor: 11; Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 159–162. According to Stagg, Yangco’s reputation preceded him. President Wilson acquainted himself with Yangco after hearing of his philanthropic efforts and receiving a Filipino hat as a Christmas gift.

21“$10,000,000 Bank Being Formed in Philippines,” 26 April 1916, Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette: 6; “To Aid Philippine Trade,” 12 December 1919, New York Times: 28.

22Bernardita Reyes Churchill, The Philippines Independence Missions to the United States, 1919–1934 (Manila, PI: National Historical Institute, 1983): 9–26.

23“Sunday School Work,” 11 April 1922, Washington Evening Star: 16; Carlos Quirino, ed., Who’s Who in Philippine History (Manila, PI: Tahanan Books, 1995): 206.

24Stagg, Teodoro Rafael Yangco: 151–152; “Don Teodoro Yangco, Philanthropist and Benefactor, Dies; Burial Sunday,” 21 April 1939, Philippines Herald: 2; “Teodoro Yangco Passes Away at 77”; “Manila North Cemetery,” http://www.manila.ph/manilanorthcem.htm (accessed 13 April 2011).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Library of Congress
Manuscript Division

Washington, DC
Papers: In the Woodrow Wilson papers, ca. 1786-1957, 278,700 items ; 1,160 containers plus 35 oversize ; 459 linear feet ; 542 microfilm reels. Correspondents include Teodoro Yangco.

University of Michigan
Special Collections | Worcester Lanzar Carpio Winslow

Ann Arbor, MI
Papers: In the Anti-Imperialist League Papers, 1903-1922, 597 items and 5 volumes. Other authors include Teodoro Yangco. An unpublished finding aid is available in the library.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

Ruiz, Demetrio E. Jr., Teodoro Rafael Yangco: His Life and Business Career (1861-1939). M.A. thesis, University of Santo Tomas, Philippines, 1975.

Stagg, Samuel Wells. Teodoro Rafael Yangco, Leading Filipino Philanthropist and Grand Old Man of Commerce. Manila, P.I: University of the Philippines, 1934.

"Teodoro R. Yangco" in Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900-2017. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Publishing Office, 2018.

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