Heritage celebration to honor Cebu’s builders, entrepreneurs

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Sunday, May 25, 2014


Abigail Gee M. Lastimosa
RAFI Intern

CEBUANOS began to trade even before conquerors invaded the Philippines. Cebu was already an important port long before Ferdinand Magellan set foot on Philippine soil.

The volume of foreign and domestic trade that passed through Cebu fueled the establishment of processing plants, the expansion of shipping and allied businesses, and the rise in its financial strength, which also enabled the growth of education, language, science and technology, arts, lifestyle, and even religion.

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When the Gabii sa Kabilin unfolds this week, participants will get to learn about Cebu’s great entrepreneurs and the roles they played in the Queen City of the South.

They include:

The Aboitizes

The family traces its roots to a mariner from the Basque region of Spain, Paulino Aboitiz, who started to trade abaca fiber or hemp in Leyte. When the Spanish government in Manila fell in 1900s, Paulino and his family moved to Cebu. Paulino’s business (Aboitiz and Company) in both shipping and agriculture thrived and was later managed by his second son, Ramon. Ramon’s son Eduardo later took the helm of the growing conglomerate, succeeded in the 1990s by Jon Ramon. The Aboitizes have diversified their businesses, venturing into banking, power and shipbuilding, among others.

The family foundation Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI), with Jon Ramon’s brother Roberto Aboitiz as president, is among the groups at the forefront in helping the people of the Visayas and Mindanao lead better lives. RAFI, through its Culture and Heritage Unit, also spearheads the annual Gabii sa Kabilin.

The Gos

From lowly beginnings in Fukien, China, the young man Go Bon Tiao, later better known as Don Pedro Gotiaco, became one of the wealthiest taipans in Cebu during the 19th century. His story is not different from those of many outstanding Filipino-Chinese businessmen with their “rags-to-riches” narratives. Manuel Gotianuy, Gotiaco’s son, founded Gotiaoco and Brothers, a business dedicated to trading and commodity exports, shipping, and insurance.

Don Pedro Gotiaoco and his brother Go Kiam Co (who later followed his brother to Cebu City) have left many descendants who are well-known in Philippine society, especially in Cebu. These are the Go family (owners of the University of Cebu and Elizabeth Mall); the Sy-Gaisano (owners of the Gaisano group of companies); the Gokongwei family (owners of JG Summit, Cebu Pacific, Robinson’s and Sun Cellular); and the Gotianun family (owners of the Filinvest Group and East-West Bank).

From Pedro’s humble beginnings to the lofty standing of his descendants in society today, the Gotiaco clan has indeed come a long way. The landmark Gotiaoco building is one of the featured sites of this year’s Gabii sa Kabilin, which is happening this Friday, May 30, from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Agustin Jereza

Agustin Jereza is the engineer behind the construction of many Cebu landmarks, like the administration building of the University of the Philippines Cebu, the Rizal Museum and Library along Osmeña Blvd., Vision Theater on Colon St., and the University of Southern Philippines-Mabini campus building, which are all featured and participating sites of the Gabii sa Kabilin.

Paulino Gullas

Don Paulino Arandia Gullas founded Cebu’s long-running English-language newspaper The Freeman, whose maiden issue which came out on May 19, 1919. Paulino later became the congressman of the second district of Cebu in 1928 and was reelected in 1934. He was the first registrar with first dean Dr. Lawrence Wharton to organize the college faculty and admission of students of the Junior College of UP (UP Cebu) in school year 1918-1919.

The University of the Visayas, a school institution managed by the Gullas family, and the Jose R. Gullas Halad Museum, are featured and participating sites, respectively, of the Gabii sa Kabilin.

There are many others worthy of mention and who are mighty inspirations for Cebuanos of today. They have, in their own ways, helped make Cebu what it is now: a city respected and admired for its accomplishments.

We have Don Sergio Osmeña Sr., the first Cebuano Philippine president; Gabino Veloso, son of Don Mariano Veloso who was the wealthiest merchant in Cebu in the 1870s; the Escaños, notably Dr. Mamerto Escaño, who was among those who accepted management of the Visayan Electric Company after it was turned over by the Americans; the Ludo and Luym families, whose progenitor, Don Cayetano Ludo, was Cebu’s first billionaire; Dionisio Jakosalem, the former Cebu governor who endorsed the reduction of US tariff on Philippine products that was submitted to Congressman W.W. Cochs of New York; and former Senator Vicente Rama, whose efforts made the then municipality of Cebu become a chartered city.

There are a lot more people who helped make Cebu great. Their contributions may not even be recognized, but they have the Cebuanos’ gratitude for helping mold Cebu into a city worthy of pride. (This story is based, in part, on entries in www.wikipilipinas.org, www.velosofoundation.com, www. istorya.net)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 26, 2014.

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