Monday, October 17, 2011

Iloilo Natives

Iloilo City Hall Aerial View
October 17, 2011, 4:50am

MANILA, Philippines — In Iloilo City for the inauguration and office blessing of the Manila Bulletin branch, I am struck by the steady progress of the economy as borne out by the construction of new edifices and mushrooming of enterprises.

Searching for the cause, I can see that the quality educational institutions led by the University of the Philippines, University of San Agustin, Central Philippine University, and University of Iloilo, among others, are one reason.

But the determinant factor is really the people of Iloilo, their industriousness and their creativity. Among them, I would count the llonggo businessmen who, in the words of Iloilo Business Club Chairman Juan Jose Jamora III, have “their unique acumen, talent, and resilience.”

Fortunately on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the Iloilo Business Club has produced a commemorative book, Ilonggo Intiatives, that “highlights the evolution of business in Iloilo and the brotherhood that was formed at the center of it all.”

The book covers a short history of business in Iloilo, the first 20 years of the club, looking into the future, business features, business directory, and profiles of llonggo leadership.

Reading the stories of the captains of industry, some names are familiar because of their national prominence – Dr. Alfonso Uy, the first Ilonggo president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry; Rex Drilon II, president of the Institute of Corporate Directors and formerly CEO of Ortigas and Company; Henry Chusuey, founder of the Boracay Regency Beach Resort and Spa; and Edgar “Injap” Sia II of Mang Inasal.

There are others, whose achievements are etched in the Ilonggo mind but still have to pierce the national consciousness – Larry Borro, who together with wife Adelfa ensured that Ted’s Old Timer batchoy would become a Filipino favorite; Johnny Que, who parleyed an old Iloilo Supermart waffle machine into Johnny’s Waffle Time franchise with 400 outlets in Southeast Asia; Dr. Mary Lou Lacson Arcelo, who in answering a father’s call transformed the Iloilo Maritime Academy into the John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University with four campuses in Iloilo and Bacolod serving around 50,000 students annually; Munding Robles, the marine biologist turned entrepreneur with the freshest seafood fare in Breakthrough restaurant; Roger Florete, who, from Bombo Radyo Philippines, branched to banking, water, agribusiness, real estate, pawnshop, jewelry, and the latest Iloilo watering hole, Plazuela de Iloilo; Angel de Leon Jr., who nurtured a microfinance institution, Taytay Sang Kauswagan, Inc., with an initial start-up capital of P2,500 to a fund worth billions assisting more than 300,000 small and micro entrepreneurs over 24 years; Bobby Pison, who with his siblings changed the Mandurriao farmland into one of the largest development projects in the city with Smallville and the Broadwalk, the new Ateneo de Iloilo campus, and Ayalalnad’s R900-million BPO facility; Manchie Jamora and his siblings, who created the sprawling Marymart Complex; Alfonso Tan with his International Builders Corporation, one of the largest construction firms in Western Visayas, and his acquisition of Del Rio and Iloilo Grand hotels; Jose “Pepe” Layson’s superstructures built all over Visayas and Mindanao by his JS Layson & Company, and Zinon Setas’ Prestress International with its prestressed concrete, among others.

My personal favorite is Sen Rafael III, who losing his job after Amon Trading shut down its operations during the Asian economic crisis in 1997 struggled to establish A.M. Builders’ Depot, with more than 41,000 different items in stock across 12 massive outlets in the Visayas, making his family enterprise one of the largest finishing construction supply stores in the region.

Over merienda in his home last Friday, he described the challenges of being an entrepreneur with no experience in accounting, warehousing, marketing, purchasing, and having to learn the business as he went along, banking only on his selling prowess. His travails and triumphs make his fellow Ilonggos proud, especially a cousin like me.

Ilonggo Initiatives will help change the national stereo type of Ilonggos as extravagant, ostentatious, carefree, and laidback into the realization that the prosperity of the Visayas comes from the vision, commitment, and untiring efforts of these men and women.

Business Bits. Quoting Rotary PDG Ramon “Toto” Cua Locsin, a founding member of the Iloilo Business Club, “the Dinagyang Festival in January would be the best opportunity to visit Iloilo and discover its treasure trove of entrepreneurship.”


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