Saturday, June 15, 2013

How an odd-named Barangay called Moog came to be the site of Laguindingan Airport.



It was in 1964 that it all started per my best recall.  On that uneventful year I started my job as agency clerk with an Ayala group of companies all dealing with non-life insurance and reinsurance.  The companies were FGU Insurance Corporation, Philippine Guaranty Co. and Universal Insurance.  Being the only employee of the Cagayan de Oro Agency office, I was made to share some leftover space with another then very popular Ayala life insurance company, Insular Life Assurance.  We both occupied a good portion of the 2nd floor of the Casino Kitchenette building along the corner of Tiano Bros. and So. Divisoria Sts., in front of the Rizal monument in Divisoria Park.

Suddenly one summer day, our office routines were upended with the arrival of a team of important-looking officials all sent by Ayala Corporation.  It turned out to be quite a high-powered team, when it was assembled in full force.  There were marketing people, a geologist, a lawyer, engineers, etc.  Some dressed ready to travel hard, noticeable by their Las Arenas cowboy hats, which were quite popular then.  Las Arenas was another Ayala company which operated from Davao and though I thought it was in agriculture, also produced those nice looking ten-gallon hats.  Many of us had them to parade around town.

 As far as I can recall, the team had personalities like Antonio Bangoy, Mario Camacho, a brother of Fr. Mondonedo, Mario Noble who joined later, and familiar faces whose names escape me now.  Like a burly and muscled gentleman who was an engineer, and who walked with a clear swagger.  But who was friendly, ever ready with his disarming smile.

This was the team sent by the Head Office with one critical purpose in mind. That was to purchase real estate in the then unheard-of place of Laguindingan, in the barrio of Moog.  As long-time city residents all we knew was that it was close to Alubijid and was indeed part of it at an earlier time.

So for the next several months, this hardy and busy team toiled aided by support team members who drove vehicles, or who knew the locale and the locals, or who were local legal eagles versed in the intricacies of real estate ownership under unique local conditions.

Countless sorties to the area were made, originating from our office which promptly became their local office and their contact station for communications to or from the central office.  Team members also promptly co-opted tables and chairs and office equipment from the regular office workers for their work.  And obscure me in my little corner was not spared.

As the months passed, the developing mysteries lurking in our minds begun to unravel.  So in due time we learned that Ayala group had gotten into a partnership with a Texas-based cement company to open up a local cement factory to rival the then existing cement factories in Iligan.  The new company was named Diamond Cement Corporation supposedly the same name as the US partner. Ayala was tasked with securing the appropriate real estate for its site.  The targeted areas in Laguindingan were found to be geologically ideal and perfect for such a factory, the soil being very rich in limestone.

There were both frenetic actions and discussions all centering around the selling and acquisition of real estate, with a cadre of lawyers making sure that documentation was proper and legal.  And in those idyllic days the price of real estate, especially outside the city limits was not that enviable, most of the land devoted principally to growing coconuts.   But the many landowners in the area found their golden opportunity to convert their inert and idle lands to ready cash.  So the rush to sell went unabated until there was not much more to sell.

After a year or two, just as quickly the kinetic activities tapered down as things imperceptibly went back to normal.  And I had in the meantime moved on to another pursuit, another job.

But just the same I landed in the lap of another Ayala company, this time their flagship company, Bank of the Philippine Islands.  Again the talk about the proposed cement factory surfaced.  And as I recall we did open an account under the name of Diamond Cement Corporation.  But just the same nothing much developed with regard to the proposed partnership with the US-based company.  Until some global disturbances brought out the news that the protracted waiting would end since the US company had backed out.

Notwithstanding, our banking relationship with the proposed company continued because after all there was some money to be made with the huge estate bought by the Ayalas.  Of course, just how big it was I never knew personally but I shall revisit this topic later.  Since the estate was planted to coconuts, the owners became coconut harvesters, selling copra as their product.

Some years later in the early 70’s, the head honcho of BankPI, Enrique Zobel had an airstrip made in Barrio Moog close to the ocean so he would be able to land his private plane when he visited the BankPI branches of Mindanao or when he went on his private leisure trips.  Like scuba-diving? And usually, officers of the bank would get the honors of picking him up from his private airstrip.

So fast-forward almost 50 years later and that site has become the newest airport, reputedly of international airport caliber, of Cagayan de Oro.  And auspiciously, we see the current head honcho of Ayala in the person of Jaime Augusto Zobel Ayala (JAZA) as one of the more important guests during the airport’s inauguration this week, and who appeared to be all smiles.

And why not! He has all reasons to be happy, not only for having opened recently the newest Ayala mall in the city’s downtown, but because its Laguindingan estate surrounds or abuts this newest airport.

So how big of a real estate goldmine is Ayala sitting on in Barangay Moog, Laguindingan?  The airport complex is listed as being contained in an area of 4.17 square kms. Or translated differently, about 400 hectares.   Now remember part of this was donated – presumably by Ayala.  So can we assume that the original estate of Ayala was about 1000 has. or about 10 square kms. at least? 

Is Laguindingan big enough to accommodate such a size?  Yes, its total area composed of 11 barangays is about 44 square kms.

So funny-sounding Barangay Moog has gained nationwide renown from this point on.  All because of a botched partnership, derailed by a global disturbance?