John Gokongwei’s love for Iloilo

By: Alex P. Vidal

“Many people dream about being an entrepreneur, stating their own business, working for themselves, and living the good life. Very few, however, will actually take the plunge and put everything they’ve got into being their own boss.”—Fabrizio Moreira

THE late billionaire John Gokongwei Jr. must have loved Iloilo so much that he built three Robinsons Place malls in that part of the country, among his other businesses in Western Visayas.

Aside from the Robinsons Place built in Iloilo City Proper on October 5, 2001, Gokongwei’s Summit Holdings or J. G. Summit Holdings erected another Robinsons Place in Jaro District. Iloilo City on September 8, 2016.

And on June 21, 2018, another Robinsons Place appeared in Pavia, Iloilo.

Elsewhere in Western Visayas, Gokongwei’s Robinsons Place has eclipsed SM City’s in number of branches.

There is also a Robinsons Place in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique built on July 15, 2015; a branch in Roxas City, Capiz built on July 13, 2014; and in Bacolod City built in 1997.

The presence of these modern malls have helped the local economy in terms of taxes for the city and municipal treasury and employment opportunities for local residents.




For this reason, local legislatures in areas where Robinsons Malls are present must pass a resolution to express gratitude and honor Mr. Gokongwei now that he has passed away at 93.

Local governments that have benefited from entrepreneurs like the late Henry Sy of Sm Prime Holdings and now Mr. Gokongwei should pay tribute to their gigantic contributions in helping the local economy.

Robinsons Malls is one of the largest shopping malls and retail operators in the Philippines incorporated on September 9, 1997 by Mr. Gokongwei himself to develop, conduct, operate and maintain the Robinsons commercial shopping centers and all related businesses, such as the lease of commercial spaces within the compound of shopping centers

Meanwhile, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry has confirmed that Mr. Gokongwei has “able” heirs who can continue his legacy,

The federation’s president, Henry Lim Bon Liong said the taipan, whose businesses include the Philippines’ largest airline, Cebu Pacific, is a big loss to the country.

Mr. Gokongwei Jr. was the third richest Filipino, according to Forbes Magazine. Aside from being a business magnate, he was also a philanthropist. And with all the businesses he owned in the country, he provided thousands of jobs to people. With his story, he helped inspire people to have the determination to bounce back in life without ever quitting.




According to the many stories written about Mr. Gokongwei Jr., he was once a scion of a wealthy Filipino-Chinese clan born with a silver spoon and was studying in San Carlos University.

Their family was known to be one of the richest in Cebu. Unfortunately, one day, all these things he enjoyed were taken away from him when his father died. The creditor seized their home and cars, their business was gone and suddenly everything he had disappeared, the stories said.

The stories went further: They became flat broke and at 15, Gokongwei Jr. had to work to provide for his family. His mother had to sell her jewelry.

His siblings were sent to China where the cost of living was cheaper. He sold roasted peanuts and opened up a small stall in the market, where he had to compete with other vendors to sell his goods.

He sold soap, candles, and threads to earn money. Determined as he was, Gokongwei Jr. knew he had an advantage as he was younger, therefore he used this as a strength in his job.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)