Juan Y. Sia’s Legacy of Integrity in Public Service

February 9, 2021 was a sad day for most Kagay-anons when they found out one of the city’s most beloved civil servants had passed away peacefully in his sleep early that morning.

However, though many know him personally, not many Kagay-anons know that the late Juan Yap Sia was born in Amoy, China (now known as Xiamen City) on July 7, 1934 to Sia Ponso and Leah Yap.

Silver Wedding Anniversary of Alfonso Sr and Leah Sia 1957. Guana is to the right. (Sia Family Album)

He has six siblings: Jose, married to Cecila Ching; Esteban, married to Joy Angbetic of Cebu; Emelio, a doctor, married to Cherisa Cañete of Liloan, Cebu, (also a doctor) both retired in Seattle, USA; Richard, a dentist, married to a dentist from Ozamiz, Norma Tan ; Alfonso Jr.,  married to Lilian Chan of Basilan; and the youngest and only girl, Ramona, who opted to remain single and has since retired from banking.

Guana, as he is fondly known to his family and friends, migrated with his family from China to Camiguin, where his uncle Sia Mayong had a store in Mambajao during the 1920s to the 1950s.

According to his wife Adelfa, he had a near-death experience when he was bitten by a snake commonly known as udto-udto (you will be dead by noontime if one bites you) in Camiguin Plaza and was unconscious for three days until he was treated by an arbolario with tobacco and oracion.

Due to the severity of the bite, it might actually not have been an udto-udto (a.k.a. as paradise flying snake or  paradise tree snake which are rear-fanged and mildly venomous, but their bite is generally not considered to pose a threat to humans) but the very similar-looking but far deadlier barred coral snakes (Hemibungarus calligaster, a genus of venomous elapid snakes). 

In 1946, Alfonso Sr. moved his family to Cagayan de Misamis when he was hired by Proctor & Gamble to manage a copra buying station there.

Junior High School in Kong Hua School. Guana is second from right at the back row. (Sia Family Album)

Guana studied at Nazareth Public School (now South City Central School) where he learned to speak Bisaya, and later to Ateneo de Cagayan (now Xavier University) where he polished his English language skills.

“My brother belonged to this class. He was the youngest – was only 13 and turned 14 by the time he graduated. His classmates and batchmates were 2-3 years older than him,” recalls Gwendolyn Ramos-Garcia, whose late mother Pureza Neri Ramos, and late brother Honorio Boy Ramos, Jr. were colleagues of the late Guana in the city council during his tenure as city councilor.

Senior High at Kong Hua School. Guana is the third from right in the back row. (Sia Family Album)

At Kong Hua Senior High School Guana became one of its most outstanding students, winning an impromptu speech contest, awarded best in Chinese Calligraphy, and directed Chinese stage dramas.

He graduated High School from XU (Filipino curriculum) and Kong Hua (Chinese curriculum) in 1956, and Bachelor of Science in Commerce (BSC) Major in Accountancy from Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in 1962.

Juan Y. Sia’s picture from the XU Crusader Yearbook 1962.
(courtesy of Irene Grace Alba Guitarte & XU Alumni Office Staff)
)

He applied and was granted Filipino Citizenship and married Adelfa Lui, whom he met during their high school days at Kong Hua, and continued courting her when both were studying at Xavier University.

The couple was blessed with five children: Renato, married to Pennapa Chantarasatit  from Bangkok, Thailand, with two kids, Pete and Wena; David, married to Germyline Dizon, has two girls, Danica, a marketing graduate from XU, and Natasha, now a 3rd year Nursing student at  Cebu Doctors; Catherine, married to Roland Teves from Davao, who migrated to the US and have 3 boys: Raymond, a professional nurse; and Ryan and Richard who are still studying; Ben Hur, married Mary Lao from Tabaco, Albay, have two girls, Cara and Paige studying at Kong Hua school; and Marylou, married Patrick Tan, a Kagay-anon, and now lives in Manila with 3 kids: Kirk, Maegan, and Audrey. The family now has a total of twelve grandchildren.

Family Picture from the XU Golden Jubilee HS ‘56 souvenir program in 2006.
(courtesy of Irene Grace Alba Guitarte & XU Alumni Office Staff
)

In between his high school and college, he first worked as a cigarette salesman for Golden Key. Then, after his college graduation he worked for Ramona Unchuan Agustines as an Esso kerosene salesman.

“For two consecutive years he won a black and white TV set as incentive,” recalls Adelfa. “At the time, Cagayan still had no TV station. The first one we gave to Ramona and the second we kept as a souvenir.”

Reminisces Guana’s brother Esteban, better known to friends as Steve:  “I am the third in line in a family of 6 brothers and a sister. Guana to us was more like a father than an eldest brother. He was our tutor during our growing up years, always guiding us to be good in everything that we were doing.”

“Our parents were engaged full time in the family businesses – Sia Enterprises (soft drinks distributorship and copra trading) and & De Oro Pawnshop managed by Mama Leah in the ground floor of our house since early 1960s. The pawnshop was closed when Mama passed away in 1975.”

“Hence, Guana was there for us in my earliest remembering, even as he started his own career as a cigarette company salesman. Guana later took over the family concerns which evolved into the well-known Juan Sia Enterprises.”

“When I was getting married, I was so thankful that Guana and his kind wife, my Ah-so Delfa, made sure that I had a traditional Chinese wedding.”

“After the wedding, we tried doing business in Cagayan de Oro; Guana was again there to provide guidance. Eventually, when I decided to migrate to the US, Guana expressed fatherly concern about my situation in a far-away land. After each of my balikbayan visits, he would always walk me to the gate to bid me an intimate goodbye. I keep in my heart his words in Chinese: I will wait for you! I am back to retire here, and I now realize that Guana made true his promise – he was waiting for me in my last visit.”

The old neighborhood where Guana spent most of his adult life (courtesy of Amadeo V. Neri)

Guana started his own business in 1964 with Namarco Groceries which later became Juan Sia Enterprises. In 1966, he became the first LPG dealer in Cagayan de Oro with Mobilflame, and later StarGas, Petronas and Pryce Gas as well. He wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, and repaired the gas stoves he sold with the LPG tanks himself.

“Mr. Juan Sia was a respectable person, very accommodating, he inspects and fixes my stove almost every year. So sad will miss him. May he rest in peace,” said one of his long-time customers, Zony Uraya.”

Amadeo V. Neri, his neighbor from way back recalls, “Guana never left this neighborhood though many of us have, including his own brothers who moved to other parts, locally and abroad.”

“So I reminisce. In this neighborhood, Guana sold the first LPG tank in the entire city, he also had the only shop that custom-built bakery ovens and other appliances. Was it Shellane?”

“On the same block but along A. Velez, Guana opened the first grocery store which became the model for the others to follow, like Ororama, Gaisano, etc. It was bannered as Juan Sia Enterprises.”

“And clearly this was not enough for him, because he also lived a full life in local politics for decades. And what a sterling and admirable contribution and legacy he left behind! Especially when it came to the ideals of public service that he showed so liberally. Truly the epitome of public service!”

Juan Y. Sia the Councilor (photo courtesy of Kakak Yap)

Guana entered politics when his neighbors in Barangay 4 elected him as their chairman in 1970, a post he would be elected to for the next 19 years. In 1989 he served in the Cagayan de Oro City council representing the Association of Barangay Council (ABC) as its chairman.

“He was the only councilor who visited far-flung barangays unpassable by any transpo (at that time). An epitome of public service indeed!” noted Marilyn Rago-Mabellin.

“I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that Councilor Juan Sia was the most well liked politician in the city,” says Councilor Ian Mark Nacaya, currently Majority Floor Leader of the City Council.

“His ability to connect and reach out to fellow man beyond the call of duty was extraordinary. He served with dignity and gave more preferential attention to the lowly and the margins instead of his peers in the higher echelons of society. He listened to the concerns of the public during public hearings even beyond 5pm. He was never absent for meetings and never upsets his friends. He’s one of a kind comrade in the public service. He was a dear friend and a loyal one.”

Guana had a soft spot in his heart and always saw to it the members of the press were well looked after. (RMB)

Veteran broadcaster Joe del Puerto Felicilda recalls how Guana’s generosity and kindness to members of the press who were covering City Hall.

“He was very hospitable, normally di siya mo-entertain nimo sa iyang house or office, but in his resto. He addresses whoever he talks with as Sir or Ma’am. Very hospitable to media, he was also a duly licensed broadcast technician and renewed his license with the NTC every year.”

“In fact, when he was still a serving, after every session he would invite all media covering the council for lunch sa iya eatery beside his residence at corner Velez-Hayes. Murag pista!

His introduction as a guest speaker during an alumni homecoming at Kong Hua sums up his brand of public service:

“He is one of those very few politicians who has no mark of dirty politics at all. He served his constituents with deep sincerity, honesty, and integrity, he advocated effective public information and livelihood options in the rural areas, and promoted many self-sustaining economic activities.”

“His dedicated and honest service have been seen and felt by many, so much so that he was voted as the No. 1 City Councilor during his last term in office; given the ‘Par Excellence service award’ as the most distinguished City Councilor and Public Servant of the Year in 2002; given an exemplary public service award by the media office for being one of the most outstanding City Councilors in the Philippines; given the name ‘Man for Others’ by the Rotary East where he served as an Outstanding President in 1987, and given a Distinguished Service Award by the Oro Chamber in 1987.”

Guana was a pioneer and board member of Bell Church Cagayan de Oro Chapter.
Taken 2016 during the celebration of the 1st CDO Chinese New Year Festival. (RMB)

Indeed, as if his responsibilities to the family business and to the city council were not burden enough, Guana was also active as a prominent member and leader of various socio-civic and religious organizations, among them, the Rotary Club of East Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (MOFCCCII), Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. (Oro Chamber), Cagayan Fil-Am Amity Club, Bell Church Cagayan de Oro Chapter, and the San Lorenzo Filipino-Chinese Parish Community.

“Juan is very generous, I remember he often gave soft drinks when we have special events in Kong Hua school,” recalls Dr. Benjamin Sia.

According to his wife Adelfa, he had lately sponsored a series of lectures on Taoist philosophy online via zoom.

The Chinese Characters for Dao

Tao (/daʊ//taʊ/) or Dao (/daʊ/ DOWfrom ChinesepinyinDào [tâu] (listen)) is a Chinese word signifying the “way”, “path”, “route”, “road” or sometimes more loosely “doctrine”, “principle” or “holistic beliefs”.[In the context of East Asian philosophy and East Asian religions, Tao is the natural order of the universe whose character one’s human intuition must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. This intuitive knowing of “life” cannot be grasped as a concept; it is known through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.

Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is not a “name” for a “thing” but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non-conceptual yet evident in one’s being of aliveness. The Tao is “eternally nameless” (Tao Te Ching-32. Laozi) and to be distinguished from the countless “named” things which are considered to be its manifestations, the reality of life before its descriptions of it.

“Guana had such noteworthy personal impact on and positive influences with many individuals, still it is nice to read their testimonials. Testimonies that tell us that Guana above everything else possessed a good conscience. For the test of a good life is the testimony of a good conscience,” Mr. Neri noted.

“Guana had done more than his share of life! Iyo Fonso would be proud, if he is not already,” he added.

Alfonso Yap Sr Family Reunion last year when Emelio and Estaban came home to Cagayan de Oro. It was the first time in many years the seven brothers and their only sister were complete. Leftmost is Efren and Cecilia Uy. Cecilia’s maternal Grandfather ( Sia Mayong) is the Brother of Guana’s Father ( Alfonso Sia Sr.).

Recalls his sister-in-law Joy Angbetic-Sia, wife of Esteban (Steve): “Guana and Ah-so Adelfa Lui-Sia welcomed me very warmly into their family when I stayed in their home soon after we got married.”

“I admired Guana for being a kindhearted man, and a well-respected community leader who was articulate in English, Chinese and Bisaya.”

“People from all walks of life readily approached him for help or advice. No wonder he was a well-loved kagawad during his public service stint. He was also an active Rotarian, a past president! A no mean feat for anyone, certainly not someone from a pure Chinese background.”

“Guana was a man for all seasons: a true friend and a caring patriarch to the Sia family who all of us looked up to and truly loved. Rest well, my dear brother in law! You will always stay in our hearts.”

Adds another neighbor Melanie Beatrix Reyes Calomarde:  “A very honorable, wonderful and respected man. We stayed for about 15 years right across the back, big gate of Juan Sia’s Enterprises and all I can say palangga mi nya tanan mga bata diha sa likod, and so with Nang Delfa. Thank you for the good memories.”

JUAN YAP SIA July 7, 1934 – February 9, 2021

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The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the following who were instrumental in making this remembrance possible: Mrs. Adelfa Sia, Mr. Renato Sia, Mr. Steve Sia, Mrs. Joy Angbetic-Sia, Ms. Mayen Angbetic-Tan, Mr. Efren & Mrs. Cecilia Uy, Mr. Amadeo V. Neri, Kag. Ian Mark Nacaya, Mr. Jose Felicilda, Ms. Irene Grace Alba-Gitarte & the XU Alumni Office Staff, Mrs. Pennapa Chantarasatit-Sia, Rep. Rufus B . Rodriguez, Mr. Jeric Chan, and Mr. Amiel Ranalan .  Daghan kaayog Salamat!

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2 Comments

  1. My father Gregory Ku was in the pictures as his professor. Only warm memories of Juan Sia . So kind and generous.

  2. Thanks for this touching and in-depth article of late Guana. I used to pass by their house when I studied in Kong Hua with Richard “Dick Hai” Sia. I was wondering what was a pawnshop and saw their mother behind those grilled windows. “Boro” Sia gave me a tin Mobil flying horse which I placed on my bike. We called each other “Esso”. Their grandfather Alfonso was a close friend of my father too. Both were pure chinese born to parents who migrated to the Philippines. They were both active with K of C.
    Farewell Guana… may you rest in peace.. you’ve done a lot and lived to the Ateneo’s spirit. “Man for Others”.

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