OPINION: McMicking of 'McKati': Rising from the Ruins

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jul 13 2017 07:32 PM

(Second of a series on Joseph McMicking and the role of private enterprise in the development of Makati.) 

Speaking of past pioneering ventures, would you believe that the revered Filipino everyman’s grog--Ginebra San Miguel--was once a Roxas-Ayala-Zobel branded product and a financial mainstay of this house of commerce? 

Long before its basketball dominance, the Ginebra was also known as “cuatro cantos” for its four-sided bottle shape. Very few would even know that the commercial artist reputed to have drawn the label depicting Archangel Michael battling Satan was Fernando Amorsolo, the most renowned Filipino painter, declared a National Artist in 1972. (Amorsolo received a study grant from Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala and travelled through out Europe to expand his horizons.) 

Ginebra San Miguel possesses the legitimate claim of being the world’s Number One selling gin!

I do wonder how many among us Filipino octogenarian surviving denizens can lay claim to remembering our very first hangover! I can. As a shavetail teener sallying adventurously towards manhood, my first encounter was a neighborly spree over a pitcher of “beer-gin-coke” with cubed ice floating up to its lipped rim! This was in ‘calle Constancia,’ Sampaloc, close to the Manila Rail Road tracks. 1949. I was only 14! (The occasion was in the company of a long departed school chum. ‘Cholo’ Lopez, kid brother of Holy Ghost ‘colegiala,’ Sally. She married the neighborhood bright boy who became a Supreme Court Justice, Isagani Cruz. Sally is now a widow.) 

Of course, it could not have occurred to me that that potent mixture had an Ayala/San Miguel spell all over it. A spell I seem to have never ever been able to cast off! Proudly, after all, I am what I have become mainly because of a 25-year engagement with the House of Ayala! 

Beer-Gin-Coke! San Miguel Pale Pilsen, Ginebra San Miguel and Coca-Cola, a San Miguel Brewery franchise product! (Until Danding Cojuangco acquired by purchase the controlling stocks of San Miguel Corporation, the Ayala corporate group and some family members owned the single largest block of shares in San Miguel. Sometime during our series, I must share with you my notes about that event. )

Down the road, I must also find the apt opportunity to retell the story of why the Ayalas eventually disposed of the ‘destileria’ business, with the Carlos Palancas’ La Tondena as the ‘sucesores’ and new owners. For as long as the Palancas owned Ginebra San Miguel, the bottom of the ‘cuatro cantos’ bottle’s label was inscribed with the statement: “Sucesores de Destilirias Ayala.”

This noble house was also into initial investments that grew to become national icons of Philippine business and commerce. These are the Cerveceria San Miguel and the Banco de las Islas Filipinas, which started out as the “El Banco Espanol Filipino de Isabel II in 1851.” That is today’s BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) whose controlling ownership was nurtured and consolidated under the direction of Joseph R. McMicking, just before his retirement. 

Much earlier too, there were the construction of the Ayala steel bridge and the operation of the first metro train horse-dawn tranvias as the very first public land transportation company in the county.

It is to be noted that none of the Ayala forebears during the antecedent colonial times were ever connected with colonial government administrations. They did not enjoy any Spanish political sinecures. The family history is quite clear about their beginnings in the then Spanish colony. Indeed, they were immigrant settlers, not mere sojourners. They were highly successful in the search for and commitment to a new mother country to which their irreducible loyalty and eternal gratitude became a hallmark. 

As a necessary consequence, the Roxas-Ayala-Zobel clan may likewise be rightfully regarded as the country’s original organized capitalist free enterprisers. Long ago, they came in search of better lives, to practice commerce along with a profession, to stake a risk in a new exotic world, to establish roots that contributed to national economic advances and progress. And stayed, creating opportunities for self-improvement. Spreading it around, as well, to benefit others. 

Picking up from the shambles of War

Jaime Augusto (JAZA), during an Ateneo forum in March 2012, recounted family business history when he said that “the Ayala businesses were in shambles after World War II……with assets but no cash.” He may have as well added, “leaderless!” The patriarch, Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, had passed away in early 1943. He was a broken man who bemoaned before family members that because of the war and the Japanese occupation: “we are ruined……everything our forebears have worked for has been lost.”

In 1945, these depleted assets included a couple of near bankrupt insurance companies and a suburban brushland, good for horse fodder but not adequate for rice-growing, known as Hacienda San Pedro Makati. 

The insurance companies (Insular Life, Filipinas Compania de Seguros, Philippine Guaranty and Universal Insurance formed the original IL-FGU Insurance group) were revived and resuscitated into financial strength while the brushland became the city we know today, Makati, the financial center of the Philippines. 

The development of Makati and the revived insurance companies became the foundation of the new Ayala that arose from veritable ruins and ashes. From the “shambles of World War II.”

And all these, out of the vision and fortitude of one man, another “in-law.”

“My uncle Joe was an in-law, continued JAZA as he spoke in the forum." (Not really an uncle because Joe McMicking was the brother-in-law of his grandfather, Alfonso Zobel de Ayala. More of a grand uncle.) “He married into the family. And I can tell you today, Ayala wouldn’t be where it is today without his involvement, vision, tremendous leadership. He was an extraordinary man.” 

This extraordinary man is the master-planner and creator of modern Makati. And the rehabilitator of an insurance empire, utilizing revived financial resources in planning and pursuing the consolidated control and ownership of the oldest Filipino commercial banking institution, the Bank of the Philippine Islands.

After World War II, Manila was indeed in shambles, physically and emotionally, economically and socially. The fierce resistance and vengeance of the beaten, retreating and suicidal Japanese Imperial Army in the southern portions of desolate and forlorn Manila--Intramuros, Ermita, Malate, even sections of Sampaloc--created a holocaust few capitals in a war-torn world would suffer and see. 

Much memorialist literature abound about the massacre of civilians inside homes, schools, churches as well as on the streets. This was in January and February of 1945. Even today, there is still too much anguish and pain in remembering. Imagine the painfully poignant soul- and gut-wrenching moments that ensued when survivors would search for missing loved ones only to find them under the mass of inhuman destruction. Destruction by fire and bombardment, by physical assault, mercilessly mutilated, mangled, raped, machine-gunned and bayonetted, caged in rooms that are exploded with grenades and doused with gasoline and set on fire. The streets had piles and piles of burned-out rubble and dead bodies. 

“The air still filled with stench of decaying unburied dead,”…….”the overpowering stench of death and decay from which there was no escape,” are some of the more vivid witnesses’ recollection of the agony and the anguish that was Manila in 1945.

Upon fulfillment of that “I shall return” war-time pledge, General Douglas MacArthur would describe what lay before him: “a city ravaged beyond measure”…..”cruelly punished.” To this Manila, MacArthur had returned. So, too, had “Uncle Joe.” 

(To be continued)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.