Would you believe: Hollywood, Bulosan and McMicking!

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Feb 03 2016 11:05 PM

Every canto boy (street corner toughie) knows of Hollywood. But one has to check with the near extinct erudite Philippine literati and with ancient nationalist labor leaders about Carlos Bulosan. 

And, McMicking who? Col. Joseph R. McMicking (JRM) is the undisputed visionary and builder of a world renowned financial center, the most significant urban development ever undertaken in the Philippines. Modern Makati was McMicking’s dream and handiwork. Yet, there is not even a ‘callejon’ (alley or side street) named after him. The dwindling few of the Philippines’ senior business elite hardly possess salient recollections about him. Was he a self-fashioned enigma? Manila-born and bred Pinoy/Tisoy, JRM was very much ahead of his time, leaving behind remarkable footsteps that need to be unveiled, remembered and looked up to as a model. 

But first, Carlos Bulosan. A respected Filipino novelist and poet in America, recognized posthumously. He was a trade unionist/activist. Carlos was an agri-labor migrant farmer combing the US Pacific Coast and toiled as a salmon cannery worker in Seattle, where he arrived at the age of 17, never returning to the Philippines. He was also an essayist and a believer in the American dream, the ravages of rabid racism notwithstanding. His famous opus, a must read for Fil-Americans who no longer possess any connection to the tear-jerky, romantic, hardscrabble antecedents of the Filipino presence in American, is the celebrated “America is in the Heart.”


Courtesy of the Joseph and Mercedes McMicking Foundation 

Now. Let me encapsulate what I know and remember of Joseph R. McMicking. Would you believe, a Philippine patriot and business visionary, hardly known today!

First and foremost, he is the visionary and builder/creator of modern Makati, having presided over the revival of Ayala’s businesses after World War II. He was one of the original civilian volunteer fly-boys of the Philippine Army Air Corps in the 1930s, becoming the only Filipino officer member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s senior staff who escaped Corregidor to set up in Australia the war apparatus for the retaking and liberation of the Philippines. 

Captain Joe McMicking served under Gen. Charles Willoughby and the Allied Intelligence Bureau that launched an infiltration espionage mission (code named “Planet”) setting up the spy organization with its vast network of guerillas all over the islands. As an aviator, I understand he had several bombing missions over the South Pacific. 

He was also an emissary of MacArthur travelling to Washington DC to brief the ailing President Manuel L. Quezon on the USAFFE (US Armed Forces of the Far East) preparations and progress. He is the unmentioned Filipino junior officer who waded ashore with the party of MacArthur, President Sergio Osmena, Generals Basilio Valdes and Carlos P. Romulo in the October 20, 1944 Leyte landing.


After WWII, having revived the Insular Life and the Hawaiian Life (whose organization as a first Filipino pre-war international venture in Honolulu McMicking was responsible for), he set up one of the very first venture capital (investment banking) shops in California after the war. He was a major player in Silicon Valley’s pioneering and sagacious entrepreneurship-via-technology days. As the financial partner of the founder/inventor (Alexander M Poniatoff), McMicking undertook the IPO (initial public offering) that launched Ampex as the worldwide pioneer and leader in audio and video technology.

Unknown even to top echelon Manila businessmen, Ayala, under the leadership of McMicking, ante-dated ASEAN. Through the acquisition of China Underwriters Life and General Insurance Co. Ltd. (CUL) in the early 1960s, Ayala’s insurance group (Insular Life-FGU) had presence in the ASEAN capitals. Incorporated in Hong Kong, CUL was listed in its stock exchange and had branches in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and Rangoon, agencies in Australia and the UK. 

Upon his retirement from Philippine operations, McMicking still found the time to organize another insurance company in Barcelona known as Las Quince Regiones. And still carved out of Spain’s Costa del Sol, overlooking Gibraltar, the largest gated private residential (cum resort and sports) development in Europe. “Sotogrande.” It is the most successful urbanization project in Europe covering 20 square kilometers becoming the in-place for the Continent’s rich, famous and powerful. (It is suggested that the topic be googled for a more exhaustive description.) Apart from Ampex, Sotogrande is the crown jewel of this Manila boy’s lifetime achievements. No one from the Philippines has ever achieved so much.


Joe McMicking was an in-law of the Ayala family. But so was Antonio de Ayala, himself. And so was Jacobo Zobel Zangroniz (Even the Sorianos and the Melians were in-laws.) The antecedent family head was Don Domingo Roxas, founder of the noble and venerable Casa Roxas (1834) now on its 182nd year as Ayala Corporation. Don Domingo, born in Taguig, a Fil-Hispano creole died in Fort Santiago. Hailed to jail because of suspected subversive revolutionary activities. (Oops, that will have to be another story.)

Joe McMicking was not to the manor born. He married into it. And as his ‘kismet’ would deem, he would be the white knight that rescued the manor from bankruptcy as a result of WWII. He used his personal funds (backpay and US investments, augmented by poker winnings, as JRM would joke). He marshalled the devalued assets of the family he married into. He is an unknown and unheralded icon of Philippine Commerce and economic development. It is no hyperbole to say that without JRM, there will be no Ayala of the 21st century. The corporate saddle, upon which vantage the Zobel de Ayalas--Jaime Augusto and Fernando along with their highly able professional crew, run and expanded the Ayala business empire, was cobbled and stitched by Joe McMicking.

Sometime in the late 1840s, a Scottish trader, Robert MacMicking visited the islands and stayed for a couple of years and wrote the classic “Recollections of Manila and the Philippines.” (London, 1851.) It is the first book about the Philippines written in English, not a translation. He came to visit two elder brothers who were already doing business in Manila as partners in the Ker, Doering & Co. (later to become Ker & MacMicking, and now Ker & Co. tracing its foundation to the year 1827.) 

A son of one the MacMickings, Torrance (b. 1853), came to the Philippines to join the business. He was posted in Iloilo and married a Cebuana mestiza, Josefa Lamadrid. A child born in Iloilo, Jose (1879), was to become the father of Joe McMicking.(b.1908) Jose McMicking studied law at the Santo Tomas, a schoolmate of Quezon, Osmena, Sumulong and Ortigas, among many early Filipino notables. 

Jose McMicking was the first Filipino Sheriff of Manila and also served as Clerk of Court in the Judiciary prior to being invited to run Insular Life, a major investment of the Ayalas, as its General Manager. Jose McMicking may have been the very first professional manager in Philippine business, meaning a hired executive without being an owner. This engagement most probably introduced the young Joe McMicking to his father’s employer’s family--the Roxas Zobel de Ayala.


And what about Hollywood and Bulosan? After that circumlocutious intro, let me weave my story some more.

Among his peers and associates, Joe McMicking had the reputation of being a man of ideas. Perhaps, a thousand ideas. One such, by some very delayed coincidence, is now happening in Hollywood! That’s how this particular blog evolved.

The Filipino has indeed become part of the American fabric. (Already there is a Filipino American History Month observed every October sanctioned by Congress, as well as schools and public buildings named after FilAm notables in the US) It can no longer be avoided. Finally, a TV romantic sitcom about a Filipino-American. No longer just a manservant/valet, cook, chauffeur or soldier boy/gofer extra with hardly a line in the script. This time, the leading man. A CW (CBS/Warner Bros.) TV series: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” I have yet to catch it but when I saw the promos I could not help but remember JRM and one of his random brainstorms.

During JRM’s annual visits, he would always find the time to summon me to ask how things are, for office banter, a touch of politics (He was very fond of Ninoy Aquino.) and small talk. He loves to probe, pick young brains and challenge the mettle and imagination of his executive wards. (I was an ardent acolyte and always looked forward to his visits. I was a devoted Ayala boy for a good 25 years! ) “What do you think…..?” “What would you do if….?” Etc. In this particular instance, the topic was TV sitcoms, something like “All in the Family.” And JRM says….”why don’t you think up of a tv script that will use Filipino lives in the US as the story line,” or words to that effect. He did add, ”you know, like to story of Carlos Bulosan.” That name stuck to me. And over the years, I have always wondered why and what JRM knew of Carlos Bulosan. I am still amusedly guessing. 

I did not know who Carlos Bulosan was, then. Less did I even know that he was already dead! But I did pursue the suggestion. In Ayala, to have gotten a suggestion from JRM was regarded as an honored mandate and a challenge. One endeavored to produce results and impress, or an airtight excuse. I ended up consulting with Celso Al. Carunungan, a noted novelist and scriptwriter.

Nothing came of the TV script about Filipino life in the US. On the other hand, JRM was happy that his own corporate social responsibility vehicle, Filipinas (now, Ayala) Foundation, (which I had the privilege of directing) instead undertook an inter-disciplinary survey and study of “The Filipino in America.” (1972-73).

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