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What were Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas caroling tips 50 years ago to Andrew Tan and other future tycoons?

By WILSON LEE FLORES, The Philippine Star Published Dec 03, 2023 5:00 am

Recently on a weekend night in the glittering ballroom of Hilton Manila Hotel in Newport Resort in Pasay City, the echoes of laughter and the sweet strains of music resonated, weaving a tapestry of memories that spanned five decades.

The occasion was nothing short of extraordinary—a 50th-anniversary reunion dinner hosted by Alliance Global Group, Megaworld Corp. and Emperador Distillers, Inc. founder Andrew Tan and his wife Katherine Lim Tan for their 20 members of the 1973 Christmas caroling project of the Youth Council of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII).

What unfolded that Saturday evening was not just a celebration of the past, but a testament to enduring friendships, shared journeys and the indomitable spirit of camaraderie.

Alliance Global Group and Megaworld founder Dr. Andrew Tan

A youthful music & civic project amidst uncertainties

In 1973, against the backdrop of the world oil crisis of Arab oil exporters imposing an oil embargo against mostly Western countries supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War and the start of martial law in the Philippines, a group of spirited young men and women embarked on an adventure that would forever bind them together.

(Standing) Jimmy Chan of Stainless Steel Industries and wife Helen Chan; (Seated) Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong and wife Rita Lim

These were the members of the FFCCCII Youth Council, a collection of mostly 20- or 21-year-olds, including future business and civic leaders.

Among them were working student (and now legendary self-made billionaire) Andrew Tan, who recently Vibered me that he just flew to Glasgow in Scotland to visit his Emperador’s subsidiary, 179-year-old Whyte and Mackay Ltd., which produces world-famous whisky and vodka drinks like The Dalmore, Jura and Vladivar; Wilson Sy, the top stock market guru, former Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) chairman, boss of Wealth Securities and also business columnist of Philippine STAR; Jimmy T. Chan of Stainless Steel Industries, Inc.; Joseph Kuan of the fast-food Joe Kuan; and Ricardo Chua, who excelled as past president and CEO of China Bank, and others. Their FFCCCII Youth Council leaders then were Jimmy Tang of Avesco and Jerry Limpe of the Destileria Limtuaco family.

FFCCCII EVP Victor Lim and FFCCCII president Dr. Cecilio Pedro 

These former youngsters, driven by their love for music and a shared desire to undertake a civic project, formed the singing group that would spread joy during the Christmas season of that globally turbulent year.

Business leaders showcase their love for singing

Andrew Tan expressed gratitude that their intimate gathering was graced by the current top leaders of the FFCCCII, which is now an umbrella of 170 Filipino-Chinese chambers of commerce and diverse trade associations from Aparri to Tawi Tawi. They were FFCCCII president Dr. Cecilio K. Pedro, honorary president Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, and EVP Victor Lim.

FFCCCII singing group 50th anniv reunion gift of artistic sketch of hosts Andrew Tan and his wife Katherine

The evening was made special not just by the sumptuous feast but by a unique program with no speeches, just wonderful songs.

Dr. Pedro serenaded the audience with soulful renditions of The Prayer and I Believe. He shared a personal anecdote, revealing that he, too, was a 24-year-old youth who won the first prize at the FFCCCII Singing Competition in 1977 with his favorite song, I Believe.

These former youngsters, driven by their love for music and a shared desire to undertake a civic project, formed the singing group that would spread joy during the Christmas season of that globally turbulent year.

EVP Victor Lim performed a song in Mandarin entitled The Moon Represents My Heart, which some years ago was also popularized by singer Zsa Zsa Padilla and actress Kim Chiu.

One of the highlights of the evening was Andrew Tan, whose surprising vocal prowess left the audience in awe. He delivered a heartfelt performance of Killing Me Softly With His Song, explaining the song's significance as a number one hit in 1973. The crowd, enchanted by his voice, demanded an encore, to which Tan graciously obliged with a magnificent rendition of Frank Sinatra's timeless classic, My Way.

A journey through the soundwaves

Andrew Tan, reflecting on the past, shared that the FFCCCII Youth Council’s singing group held regular singing practices twice a week at the FFCCCII Building by the Pasig River in Binondo, Manila, and also in other places, under the guidance of their mentor, Fernando "Alo" Dee. He recounted how they held caroling visits in December 1973 at the houses of FFCCCII leaders, expressing gratitude for the kindness and generosity shown to them.

The young singers went caroling in December 1973 at the houses of FFCCCII leaders of that era such as then FFCCCII president, "Sugar King" and Pacific Bank chairman Antonio Roxas Chua, Associated Bank and Union-Ajinomoto chairman Leonardo Ty, Philippine Bank of Communications (PBCom) chairman Ralph Nubla, Bowling Inn owner Cua Po Cho (father of SM Group founder Henry Sy's best friend Philip Cua), past FFCCCII president and industrialist Yao Shiong Shio (elder brother of Unilab/Greenfield Dev’t. Corp. founder Jose Yao Campos), Avesco Group chairman Jimmy Tang, hardware magnate Benito Go Bio, and other FFCCCII board directors. Andrew Tan recounted: "They were very kind and generous to us young people."

Jose Mari Chan’s tips to young carolers of 1973 (and to all who love to sing)

The trip down memory lane also included recollections of a special moment when the FFCCCII Youth Council had the privilege of inviting the rising singing star, Jose Mari Chan, to share his expertise. The meeting was held at a house in Pasay, arranged by the late Valentin Khoe. Chan, who Wilson Sy said was already famous then due to his popular songs Afterglow and Deep in My Heart, taught them valuable lessons on singing. This memory, shared among the members, added a touch of star-studded magic to their journey.

Jose Mari Chan

I asked Jose Mari Chan what his tips were to the young Andrew Tan, Wilson Sy and others of the FFCCCII Youth Council on singing?

Chan, the humble yet undeniably most popular father of Philippines Christmas music, replied: “My advice to aspiring singers: Do not smoke. Do not take hard alcoholic drinks. Practice singing every day. Practice deep breathing. Emulate singers whom you admire. Sing with expression. Sing from the heart. Get a good night’s sleep.”

As the night unfolded, it became more than just a reunion; it was a celebration of lives intertwined by melodies and philanthropy. The carolers of 1973, now distinguished leaders and venerable family elders, expressed their gratitude for the opportunities of their youthful endeavors.

In a moment of reflection, Wilson Sy also cheerfully remarked: "I remember fellow members of the FFCCCII Youth Council having crushes on the girls who were part of our singing group." The laughter that followed was a testament to the enduring friendships and the innocence of youthful camaraderie.

The 50th-anniversary reunion at Hilton Hotel in Newport Resort was more than a celebration; it was a symphony of lives well lived. The echoes of carols sung in 1973 had transformed into a chorus of success, resilience and unforgettable shared experiences.