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How a quiet town has embraced a beer company

The growth of the city of Mandaue and the expansion of San Miguel are inextricably linked.

From across Mactan bridge, depending on your vantage point, you can barely see it, but 50-odd years ago, San Miguel’s Mandaue brewery was the municipality’s tallest building; the heart and soul of what was later to become one of Cebu’s most dynamic and prosperous cities.

On its roof stood a huge replica of the brown Pale Pilsen steinie bottle that San Miguel was already famous for. President Ferdinand Marcos and Mrs Marcos, and an assortment of cabinet ministers descended on Mandaue in February 1968 for the brewery’s inauguration. SMC president Andres Soriano, Jr. and his young son, Andres Soriano III toured them around the facility—San Miguel’s second brewery and the company’s first major manufacturing complex in the Visayas. It took five years to build the complex at the cost of P60-P100 million pesos and over 40,000 people attended the inauguration. For a day, the Mandaue complex commanded the nation’s attention.

Situated along the central-eastern coast of Cebu, Mandaue’s location and proximity to the Mactan strait made it the ideal site for San Miguel’s Visayan operations. Land was relatively cheap in the 1960s and Barangay Tipolo (which takes its name from the Tipolo tree that once grew there in abundance) became San Miguel’s host community, the site of a 27-hectare complex which today houses the brewery, a glass plant, and a small power plant.

A year after the complex was inaugurated, Mandaue was made a city. By the early 1970s, the local economy was synonymous with San Miguel. Coca-Cola (then a San Miguel business) set up shop in Mandaue soon after. The population swelled as workers came from all over the province in search of good-paying jobs. Downstream, local businesses within a radius of several kilometers of Mandaue tended to the workers. Mom-and-pop stores were drawn to the city center drawn by the growing pool of employees earning steady incomes. Fifty years on, Mandaue has all the hallmarks of a thriving city: a vibrant service industry, good schools, health services, jobs, training centers, and affordable housing.

The 1970 census put Mandaue’s population at 58,579. Today, it is the most densely populated highly urbanized city outside the National Capital Region. Its population is roughly six times greater, roughly 363,000 in 2015.

Then and Now: From a promising small town to a progressive metro, Mandaue has become a new hub for many ever since San Miguel planted its roots with the community.

Then and Now: From a promising small town to a progressive metro, Mandaue has become a new hub for many ever since San Miguel planted its roots with the community.

A FAMILY BUILT ON SAN MIGUEL

When he was 18 years old, Mariano Tecson Gacrama joined the brewery as part of the keg racking crew. Operations were heavily manual in those days and the brewery employed some 2,000 workers, (the entire Mandaue complex employed 4,000 people in the late 1960s). He remembers having to haul the kegs into the warehouses. It was hard work, he says, but there was real pride in working for San Miguel, Gacrama says he was lucky to have been employed by San Miguel and even luckier to have been able to work at the brewery for decades.

Renato R. Suico was hired in 1975 fresh out of highschool as part of the general services pool of employees. Suico’s mother was the laundry woman of a facility administration officer, Enrique Valdez. Money was tight and she asked Valdez if there was any work at San Miguel for her young son. Happily there was, and Suico was assigned to the bottling line, where San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation’s PET plant now stands. Forty-five years later Suico still works at the brewery and he remains grateful to Valdez. “Without him,” he says, “I would not be where I am today: the father of children who all have college degrees. San Miguel helped send them to school.”

LEADERSHIP THAT LASTS

Ricardo L. Tablante is the assistant vice president and plant manager of the Mandaue Brewery and remembers how different Mandaue was in the 1970s and 1980s and how different the brewery was too. “We used to hire on the basis of physical strength. With automation and technology, that’s changed.” What hasn’t changed, according to Tablante, is the value employees place on malasakit. “None of our employees leaves the line of duty unless his partner takes his place. No one has ever abandoned his post.” Mandaue, he says, has been good to San Miguel, in fact, the complex has the reputation for one of the most harmonious employer-employee relations in the country, with several collective bargaining agreements worked out in record time. “When you take care of your community, they in turn will take care of you. I believe this is how we have endured for 50 years and how we will continue to flourish for many more.”

BEYOND THE FENCE

Blesilda Apa-Liboon is a former barangay secretary of Barangay Tipolo. Her father, Marino Apa, was once a driver and mechanic of San Miguel. “Most of the brewery’s employees came from Tipolo. We had first crack at the jobs as long as we were qualified,” she says. Apa-Liboon has seen how SMC has provided the community with the means to grow and become self-sufficient. “They hold capacity building and livelihood programs to help the barangay. San Miguel also runs a fully-staffed community clinic that treats diabetic and hypertensive patients. San Miguel treats us like family,” she says.

ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

While occupying only 1% of the province’s total land area, Mandaue certainly packs a punch, generating considerable wealth for Cebu. Roughly 40% of Cebu’s export companies are located in Mandaue, its 10,000 industrial and commercial businesses provide thousands of jobs and contribute millions in provincial taxes.

Half a century ago, San Miguel reshaped this backwater town and set Mandaue on its upward trajectory. Fittingly, the official seal of host community Barangay Tipolo still bears an illustration of the brewery facade. At the rightmost quadrant of the seal, you can just make out the shape of the famous stenie bottle, the beer to which Mandaue owes its past and its future.

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