When historians write about the late Davao mogul Don Antonio O. Floirendo, Sr., a mining engineer, they always associate him with the Tagum Development Corporation (TADECO), a sprawling agricultural estate, part of which belongs to the Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL) reservation. For decades, it hosted abaca and banana as cash crops.
Floirendo’s business rise, however, did not start with farming. After the war, as a Manila-based trader, he joined a group of Filipino war-surplus entrepreneurs led by the late Manila Hotel owner, Emilio Yap, in Guam. The exposure to the nuances of lot bidding opened his mind to the idea of trying his luck in second-hand articles, especially the buy-and-sell of war materiel equipment.
In one of his Guam sorties, Floirendo, who was born in Bauang, La Union, met by chance retired American army Colonel Gerry E. Shingledecker, later Ford Motor Company’s manager in Manila, who broached the idea of opening a dealership either in the Visayas or Mindanao, which he instinctively accepted.
Months after the US grant of independence to the Philippines, Floirendo got a letter from Shingledecker informing him that FMC had agreed to let go of Mindanao and the Visayas from the restricted Philippine franchise of Mantrade, then known as theÂ Manila Trading and Supply Company, owned by a group of Manila-based American traders.
When the Floirendo-owned Davao Motors Sales (DAMOSA) Showroom, which sourced its Ford vehicles from Germany, was opened at Banquerohan (as spelled in the 1949 Ford advertisement) Public Market in 1948, Shingledecker, originally based in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and now based in Manila, personally graced the event.
(Mindanao Motors Corporation was later opened in Cagayan de Oro, becoming the second Ford dealer in southern Philippines.)
It was President Elpidio Quirino’s invitation to the youth to seek their good fortune in Mindanao, already known as the ‘land of promise’, that encouraged Floirendo to explore and exploit the potentials of Mindanao, especially in the farming industry.
After a short visit to Davao to familiarize himself with the potentials of the area, he sought out friends who helped him secure a proclamation from President Elpidio Quirino who granted him title to over 1,000 hectares of fruitless swampland, which hecultivated into an abaca plantation.
Despite public sinecure to his plan, Floirendo established TADECO in December 1950 which, less than a decade later, became the world’s largest producer of abaca. His project, which was then under the town of Tagum (now a city), was the first to use a mechanized decorticating machine and the first to put up an abaca drying plant.
As the popularity of synthetic fiber started to eat up the abaca demand in the world market, Floirendo decided to shift to another venture—a sunshine industry—something that goes beyond practical use but also consumed on the dining table.
Decline in the demand of Manila hemp in the world market compelled Floirendo to look for other profitable venture. He wanted the TADECO estate to remain as a lucrative source of corporate income and his belief in agriculture to generate employment income for people was unwavering. He opted to redirect his energies to planting banana (Musa acuminate) which, at the time, had already a growing requirement in countries where it cannot be productively grown.
The rise of TADECO as one of the world’s largest family-owned banana plantations was not an easy sailing. To get the acceptance of importing countries, the company had to adopt measures that cohere with stringent custom regulations. It would take years that the Cavendish bananas the plantation produced would reach Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, China, Middle East, and other territories.
Floirendo’s success in his new business enterprise earned him the moniker as ‘banana king.’ At the time of his death on June 29, 2012, at age 96, the magnate had cemented his claim as the most successful Filipino to invest in corporate agricultural venture.
Interestingly, the Floirendo undertaking survived shifts in regime and administration that resulted in the owning of a 3,500-hectare family-owned and controlled banana plantation that was once public land and another 5,000 hectares leased from the government. The agricultural estate used to employ prison labor on its plantation until the Japanese buyers protested.
In ‘The Moro Conflict: Landlessness and Misdirected State Policies,’ TADECO was accused of having “violently ejected numerous communities of early settlers in DAPECOL to pave the way for the plantation. Today these settlers continue to press the government to give back their land.”
Floirendo’s agricultural ventures actually went beyond abaca and banana. During the Marcos leadership, he invaded the global sugar market by owning one of the largest sugar factories abroad: “Together with FM [Ferdinand Marcos] he owns, among other companies, Sucrest, the giant sugar refinery in the U.S. Sucrest is the sole refinery using the quota of raw sugar from the Philippines.”
Operating Sucrest was a complementation. Roberto Benedicto, known as the ‘sugar baron’ during the Marcos administration, supplied most of the raw sugar consumed by the refinery, while the remainder was sourced from exports approved by the Philippine Sugar Commission, now Sugar Regulatory Authority.
The venture, unlike previous business triumphs, did not prosper. Richard J. Kessler of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote that the failure of Floirendo to gain control of the world sugar trade contributed in part to the overthrow of Marcos by eroding further the administration economic growth level.