Chinoy family honors debt of gratitude

By Hazel P. Villa
Last updated 05:13am (Mla time) 07/28/2007

ILOILO CITY – In World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army sought out for annihilation not only their Ilonggo enemies, but also non-Filipinos, especially the Chinese who were not sympathetic to their cause.


In the chaos of war, a well-to-do Chinese businessman lost his lumberyard business and distributorship of American cars and hid in the mountains of Barangay Mina in Alimodian town, Iloilo where the residents took good care of his young family until the war was over and he could return to Iloilo City.


That businessman, Ong Juantong of Fujian, China, could not forget the hospitality and generosity of the people of Alimodian. Three generations later, his descendants continue to honor the debt of gratitude that their patriarch said should always be part of their dealings with the Ilonggos.


Thus, the patriarch who put up Juantong Lumber, his son who envisioned Golden Portals Industries Inc. (GPII), and the succeeding generation that runs it make sure that when they do business, they have the well-being of the Ilonggos at heart.


GPII, one of 50-plus plastic manufacturing firms in the country, was awarded the National Product Quality Excellence Awards for Best Polysacks and Liners (Metro Cebu) on Oct. 22, 2005 at Casino Español in Cebu City, given by Consumer Today Magazine, National Product Quality Excellence Awards, and the National Council for Product and Service Quality based in Manila.


When the company started in 1980, GPII had only two extrusion machine lines (that convert the polypropylene resin to PP yarn) and 30 people who worked for eight hours to produce the PP (polypropylene) woven bag in the company’s 6,000-square meter factory in Barangay Baldoza, Lapaz district.


Currently, GPII has two dozen extrusion machines that consume 500 metric tons of plastic resin monthly to support the different midstream machinery, including 160 weaving machines that produce the different product lines of the company.


From China to Iloilo


It was not only Ong Juantong who was a recipient of the Ilonggos’ hospitality. His father before him, Ong Kok Pau, who came to Iloilo by boat in the 1890s when Ong Juantong was only 8, started as a carpenter and put up a small lumber business.


Before he became Ong Juantong, he was simply Ong Juan but the people at Iloilo Immigration wrote his name as Ong T. Juan that later became Juantong because of a clerical mistake that was never corrected.


These clan stories are familiar to all generations of Juantongs who took over the family business that now focuses on agro-industrial manufacturing for agricultural packaging even as Juantong Lumber is still doing good business.


After the war, Ong Juantong was left with nothing but his property in Iznart Street in downtown Iloilo City, from which he slowly rebuilt the Juantong Lumberyard.


Ong Juantong had five sons and five daughters who helped him out in the lumber business, but he gave the greatest responsibility to his sixth child, Jose, who steered Juantong Lumber towards its peak.


Jose, who finished mechanical engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila, foresaw the sunset years of the lumber industry and decided to shift to plastics manufacturing, calling his company Golden Portals Industries Inc. The company was incorporated in December 1979 in partnership with Rolando and Eddie Ong, whose father Dimas was the best friend of Ong Juantong.


It was partly the desire of his father and grandfather to honor their debt of gratitude to the Ilonggos that made Jose, president of GPII, come up with a cost-efficient means of drying palay, the plastic palay net, an innovation credited to Jose in the late 1980s. The plastic palay net is solely manufactured by GPII.


Drying facilities cost about P400,000 to P500,000 at that time, which was way beyond the reach of ordinary farmers and traders.


Jose had his plastics technician come up with a net that has three layers that allowed for air flow between each layer such that the rice grains do not stick to the net and yet heat rising from the ground dries the grains.


Naturally, the first to test Jose’s palay nets were the farmers of Barangay Mina who helped hide his father during World War II.


Jose also manufactured the reversible bed mattress that would allow a user to experience a good night’s sleep in a tropical climate. The woven mat side enhances air flow during hot season, whereas the quilted cotton side offers warmth during cold weather.


Steady growth


While the palay net and reversible bed mattress were getting rave reviews from farmers and customers, Jose wasted no time in broadening the GPII’s product lines from a single product (polypropylene woven bag or PP bag used for packaging rice, flour, corn, sugar, fertilizer, feed and etc. ) until it expanded to a dozen products.


These are the non-woven bags used for banana and vegetable plantation and constructions, polyethylene fishing net, polyethylene screen, leno bag for garlic and onion, twine, palay net, polyurethane foam for upholstery, bed mattress set and pillows.


To streamline work, GPII’s products are divided into agriculture and consumer or packaging divisions with the 71-year-old Jose at the helm as president and chair of the board.


The next generation


While leaving the day-to-day management of the company to the younger generations of Juantongs and Ongs, Jose still inspires the company with the vision of becoming the number one agro-industrial manufacturing firm in the Visayas and Mindanao.


Julian, who graduated with a degree in Applied Economics at the De La Salle University in Manila, handles the finance and human resource department while Henry Juantong, who graduated with a management degree from University of San Agustin in Iloilo City, handles the sales and operation department.


Julian says their grandfather Ong Juantong would insist on observing strong familial ties and practice of Chinese values handed down by their forefathers.


Among the patriarch Juantong’s values are “profit with honor, honor thy debt of gratitude, listen to the wisdom of the elders, and protect family reputation.”


These, said Julian, explains why despite the lure of greater profit in other places, the Juantongs will always invest in Iloilo—the place that comforted and nurtured them to become the respected family and business that they are today.


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