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Makati was already bustling in the 1960s

A claim regarding Makati that is repeatedly being made in the course of the current political season has compelled me to write down my recollections of how this country’s financial capital was at the start of the 1960s. That was about the time I started being a resident of the municipality of Makati.

To place things in political perspective, a Nacionalista, Carlos P. Garcia, was the occupant of Malacañang. Thanks to one of the rules of the Philippine electoral system, Filipino voters had elected as Vice President a member of the Liberal Party, Diosdado Macapagal, in the 1959 election. In the same election the voters of Makati had elected Maximo Estrella, a Liberal, to a second four-year term as mayor, along with a majority of the nine-member municipal council. The governor of the province of Rizal, of which Makati was a component, was Isidro Rodriguez, a Nacionalista.

My recollection of the start of the 1960s was that Mayor Estrella conducted himself as the chief executive of the rising star of the Philippine geopolitical landscape. A political giant, Arsenio Lacson, held sway in Manila’s City Hall, and another heavyweight, Norberto Amoranto, ran Quezon City, but Maximo Estrella clearly believed that he and Makati were the mayor and the place, respectively, to watch.

Max Estrella had good reason to feel the way he did, for at the start of the 1960s Makati was already a well-laid-out, classy and rapidly growing municipality, with residential subdivisions and a business district that could stand comparison with similar developments in the West. This was entirely the product of the operations of Ayala y Compania, the predecessor of Ayala Corp., which had started planning the development of the vast Ayala estate soon after the end of World War II. The magnificent thoroughfares of today’s Ayala Central Business District--Ayala Avenue, Makati Avenue, Paseo de Roxas and Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road)--were already in place at the start of the 1960s.

During the course of that decade the edifices that today line the CBD, thoroughfares began to be constructed, and by the time 1970 came along they were almost completely filled with buildings. Into the beautiful new edifices moved most of the Philippine or regional offices of many of the world’s multinational companies as well as the head offices of the biggest Philippine companies (including San Miguel Corp., before it moved to Pasig). Had the Makati Business Club been in existence then, it would have had a long roster of corporate-elite members.

The 1970s saw the addition of three companion five-star hotels--the Peninsula, the Mandarin and the Dusit Thani group’s Manila Garden--to the Intercontinental, which had opened its doors for business in 1965. Construction of the three new hotels had been encouraged by the government of this country, which was hosting the 1976 annual joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Among the corporate establishments that located their principal offices in Makati in the 1960s and the 1970s were some of the nation’s premier financial institutions, led by Development Bank of the Philippines, the Ayala-owned Bank of the Philippine Islands, Land Bank of the Philippines and the Makati Stock Exchange. By the end of the 1970s, Makati truly could be called the financial capital of the Philippines.

It goes without saying that with the decision of many of the nation’s leading business establishments to set up shop in Makati came a sharp increase in the bustling municipality’s revenues. By 1980, Makati was well on the way to becoming what it is today: the second wealthiest locality in this country. Truth to tell, Mayor Max Estrella already could afford, in the mid-1960s, to give the low-income and older residents of Makati the full range of medical and other benefits—including cakes on birthdays—that are being dispensed by the present government of Makati. But Max Estrella had no plans to run for national office, and neither did his successors Jose Luciano and Nemesio Yabut.

Back to the claim regarding Makati that I spoke of at the start of this column.

It is claimed that the development and growth of Makati to where it is today commenced in 1986. That claim is pure, unadulterated nonsense. Thanks to the foresight and efforts of the Ayala interests, Makati was already fully developed and very rich by the time the shots that ushered in the Edsa Revolution were fired.

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