Banana king leaves legacy of hard workBy Cynthia D. Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Mindanao lost one of its pioneering entrepreneurs with the recent passing of “Banana King” Antonio Floirendo Sr.
His son and namesake, former Davao del Norte representative Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr., said his father left “shoes too large for any one’s feet to fill.”
But Tonyboy, the second of Floirendo’s six children, takes courage in his father’s legacy as a frontiersman and the ethic of hard work he instilled in the family.
“My father was no ordinary man. He was hardworking, he was humble,” Tonyboy told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.
The elder Floirendo died of pneumonia on June 29 at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City in Taguig at the age of 96.
Born on Nov. 20, 1915 in Bauang, La Union, Floirendo was among those who saw enormous possibilities in the country’s southern frontier after the war when the administration of President Elpidio Quirino encouraged people from Luzon and the Visayas to explore opportunities in Mindanao.
His wife, Doña Nenita R. Floirendo, recalled that during the Japanese occupation, Floirendo, then in his 20s, used to ferry passengers on his calesa for a fee.
With capital accumulated through dint of hard work, the young Floirendo put up the first Ford dealership outside Manila: Davao Motor Sales (DAMOSA).
It turned out to be a bold business move that anticipated Davao’s remarkable post-war economic growth and its burgeoning transportation needs, said Tonyboy, who is married to former Miss Universe (1973) Margarita Moran.
Tonyboy recalled his father as telling them: “In a world where the weak are often left behind, I learned to be tough early in life. If I didn’t, then I know I wouldn’t be able to help all those who depended on me.”
His father’s big break came when he was able to secure a proclamation from President Quirino in the early 1950s granting him the title to a total of 1,200 hectares of unproductive swampland in Davao, which he planned to turn into an abaca plantation.
At the time, Davao del Norte was mainly marshland. Floirendo faced many difficulties and trials when the company that he founded, Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. (TADECO), started operations. The business venture eventually became the largest abaca producer in the world, according to Tonyboy.
The elder Floirendo had trained as a mining engineer, but chose to plunge headlong into agriculture. In the mid-1960s, when demand for abaca declined because of the development of synthetic nylon ropes, Floirendo immediately shifted operations to bananas.
By the early 1970s, TADECO was already exporting its bananas to the Japanese market. From then on, the company’s growth was phenomenal, creating more jobs for the residents of Davao del Norte, Tonyboy recalled.
Floirendo’s emergence as Mindanao’s “banana magnate” wasn’t easy at all, he said. The company experienced many difficulties. Among these was complying with the strict quality control standards set by buyers.
The elder Floirendo demanded hard work from his children.
One of his daughters, Maricris F. Brias, recalled that when they used to work at one of their father’s firms, DAMOSA, she and younger brother Tonyboy had to start early in the morning and stay up to 5 p.m.
“He’d also make us plant bananas and do the boxes. He wanted us to work all the time, he didn’t want us to be lazy,” she said.
“You will never get to the top if you don’t start from the bottom” was the line Marissa R. Floirendo, the fourth child, remembered her father telling her.
She described her father as a ‘bastonero’: “super strict but he had a big heart.”
Doña Nenita remembers Antonio Sr. telling their children, “I started from scratch, from nothing. That’s why I’m working hard…”
From TADECO later emerged ANFLOCOR, a conglomerate of various companies engaged in various businesses in different parts of Mindanao, providing employment to many people in the entire island.
Speaking in behalf of the family during burial rites on July 6 in Marapangi, Toril, Davao City, Tonyboy described his father as “a man of extraordinary vision, zeal and tenacity,” who built a business empire which today not only benefits his family, but countless others.
Former ambassador Antonio Lagdameo, who is married to Floirendo’s eldest daughter Linda, added: “You could say he died with his boots on.”