Gemma Cruz Araneta
In 1959, while Antonio Araneta, Jr. ( my husband) was polishing his undergrad thesis (‘Elites and Economic Development in Underdeveloped Countries’) at the Notre Dame University, a be-medalled sergeant of the Philippine Army, survivor of World War II was applying for a job at an Araneta-owned company. Aguinaldo Cabe described himself as a “pioneering business man” because he had set up a rice milling and trading company in a small town somewhere in Mindanao. But, “when a Muslim went into a similar business as mine, most of my customers moved away,” lamented Cabe. On top of that, a plague of locusts devored all the rice fields. “I was devastated,” he mourned.
He used to work for Don Antonio Araneta before WWII; aside from office work, Cabe became a veritable caregiver after his boss collided with a calesa while biking and fractured a thigh bone. Don Antonio forgave the calesa man, gave Cabe the bike and began working from home while convalescing.
When the Battle for Manila was imminent, Cabe said: “Don Antonio had all the books, one room full of legal books moved to the church for safekeeping, including other items of importance. It was presumed that the church would not be bombed or ransacked by retreating Japanese forces, much less by returning American soldiers,” Cabe rejoined the army and Don Antonio told him that should both of them survive, he hoped that Cabe could work for him again. He did, after that locust plague in Mindanao. Cabe was hired by Botica Boie, an Araneta company on Escolta, with a wholesale office at Manila’s Port Area.
In 1958, Don Antonio bought a 40-hectare bangus fishpond in Pangasinan from an American company. Cabe wrote in his memoir: “Knowing that I speak Ilocano and was from the army, he told me that he was assigning me as his representative to take charge of the property he had just bought, pending the arrival of an engineer to take charge of developing the area into salt beds.” How appropriate, the word Pangasinan means a place where there is salt. He was warned that the place was “....noted for robbers, murderers and other criminally inclined individuals, but he told me to be brave and I said I would do my level best.” As a sweetener, Don Antonio assigned a jeep and driver to take Cabe’s children to school and his wife to market and church. She was also given capital to open a small store of her own.
Lamentably, Cabe’s reminiscences included no commercial, financial nor statistical data about the bangus fishponds nor the salt-making place called El Salinar. It was producing industrial salt on a massive scale and I remember seeing mountains of crystal-like chips in bodegas waiting to be loaded on barges that were, in turn, towed to various Philippine ports. In those days, there were many manufacturing companies owned by Filipinos.
Civil Engineer Wilfredo Guzon, formerly with the Pangasinan Bureau of Highways, was hired to execute the designs of a Dr. Thiesby, a solar salt production consultant attached to the United Nations. An anemometer was installed to measure wind direction, velocity and gauge rainfall. There was a glass prism that measured sunlight and heat intensity. Engineers of Heights Construction (another Araneta company) observed and measured tide levels 24/7 and made portable ponds of GI-sheets to study the evaporation rate of sea water. El Salinar bought mountain boulders from the nearby islands of Pilar and Santiago to construct the dikes.
“We hired more than a hundred men to help us construct dikes and line these with boulders which were brought in on bamboo rafts we also had to make,” recalled Cabe. They built an internal dike system for evaporator and crystallizer areas as well as eight gates to drain out rainwater during heavy downpours and let the seawater in during salt-making season. A natural lagoon was enclosed as a depository for leftover high salinity brine pumped in after salt harvest.
Due to the bulldozing and excessive movement of earth, extraction of boulders from nearby islands and seeming altercations of the natural flow of waters, the elders of nearby communities insisted that a goat be sacrificed to appease the guardian spirits of the area.
“As the years rolled on, business started a downward trend, financial losses became insurmountable. By the end of 1979, the bitter end became very visible...” wrote Cabe. Again, he did not say how or why the industrial salt business floundered. How ironic!
The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands and one of the world’s longest coastlines and here we are importing 90 percent of the salt we need. We have to buy 550,000 metric tons of salt from Australia and China. Whatever happened to the elites and their role in economic development?
(Source: Cabe, Aguinaldo, For God , for Country and for Don Antonio. April 2003. Unpublished manuscript)