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MANILA, Philippines – Antonio Floirendo Sr., dubbed as the “banana king” for transforming vast tracts of raw land in Mindanao into fruits-for-export plantations as one of the first frontiersmen who ventured to the South after World War II, died Friday night of organ failure at the age of 96, his family announced.
“You could say he died with his boots on,” said former ambassador Antonio Lagdameo, married to Floirendo’s eldest daughter Linda.
The patriarch of one of Mindanao’s richest families, though hobbled by old age, had continued to be involved in the family’s business, consolidated in the Anflo Group, until his final days because his motto was “one never retires,” said son-in-law Lagdameo.
Floirendo had contracted pneumonia and was briefly confined in a hospital in Davao, where he had lived, as a “transplanted Ilocano” since after WWII. He was later flown to the St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City in Taguig City by medevac, but died shortly before 7 p.m. Friday.
He will lie in state at the family home in North Forbes in Makati City until Monday night, and will be flown to Davao on Tuesday. Final arrangements for his burial were still being set at posting time.
Of his six children, second son and namesake Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr., was the one who plunged into politics, having served as congressman for Davao del Norte. Tonyboy is married to former 1973 Miss Universe Margie Moran.
Floirendo Sr. was a mining engineering graduate of Adamson University but never got to practice his profession, according to Lagdameo.
“But you could see he loved the earth so much and was so skilled at appreciating the soil that anywhere he went, he could say instinctively what kind of crop is best suited to an area. I guess that was behind his success,” said Lagdameo.
When he first went to Mindanao, however, Floirendo did not actually start out with farm-based enterprises. He was offered, and accepted, the Ford Motors distributorship in Mindanao, and this thrived for several years before he plungead headlong into agriculture.
Banana was not his first success story; it was abaca. “You could say he was the abaca king before he became banana king,” said Lagdameo.
When the demand for the Manila hemp started to decline, Floirendo shifted to bananas, with the grand dream of feeding most of the globe with Philippine bananas. “If you feed one banana to each person in China, imagine how successful you’d be,” he once quipped. Until his death, the Anflo bananas remained big in the markets of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, particularly Japan.
Lagdameo says one of his best images of his father-in-law was his picture as a man in his early 30s, “with my wife Linda, then a baby, being carried by some people in a six-by-six truck, and her father, with his bolo, in front, preparing to personally lead clearing operations.
When Floirendo and some of his contemporary pioneers—the Almendrases, Sarmientos and Antoninos—first went to Mindanao as settlers after the war, Floirendo was left with the land that was remotest from the city. He took it in stride, and “what do you know—it turned out he was left with the most fertile soil.” The early years were sheer struggle, though, involving back-breaking work in clearing raw land. “But he had a vision, and he had the tenacity. Perhaps it was the hardy Ilocano in him. He dreamt big and worked hard for everything,” stressed Lagdameo.
It was thus with some pain, he added, that the old man had to confront allegations, after the Edsa revolt in 1986 that as a “Marcos crony,” he had amassed wealth illegally or may even be fronting for the dictator. Fortunately, said Lagdameo, the first chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Jovito Salonga, gave Floirendo a fair chance to state his case and prove he had worked hard for what he owned. “Thus, his was among the first PCGG cases to be resolved,” said Lagdameo.
The son-in-law is uncertain why exactly Floirendo was lumped among the Marcos cronies, but surmised that his involvement in Marcos’s party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL, was a factor.