PANGLAO ISLAND, Bohol—A group of companies that grew from a sari-sari store in Bohol’s capital Tagbilaran City has been so dominant in the commercial center business that mall magnates like the Sys, Ayalas, Gokongweis, Gotianuns or Gaisanos have not gained a foothold in the province.
Alturas Group of Companies (AGC) is the clear mall king in Bohol. It has built three malls in Tagbilaran and one each in the towns of Talibon and Tubigon. In addition, it has Plaza Marcela in Tagbilaran, with a supermarket, hardware store, pharmacy and restaurant.
AGC has even spread its wings beyond Bohol, operating a supermarket in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue that offers fresh meat and fish.
Its malls face only one competitor in the province—Bohol Quality (BQ) Mall, said Fe Ginete, director of sales and marketing at AGC’s South Palms Resort Panglao. Like AGC, BQ Mall had humble beginnings.
Marlito Uy, one of the founders of AGC, talked about its evolution with CoverStory.ph on Jan. 12, at the launch of the resort estate Panglao Shores. (See “Going local and green to build 50-hectare, mixed-use ‘family dream,’” Jan. 17, 2023.)
“We started out as a sari-sari store. Then it became a grocery, mini supermarket, supermarket, mini mall and mall. Then, we did backward integration in agriculture,” said Uy, 72.
Today, 50 years after the sari-sari store started selling small items to the residents of the neighborhood, the Uy family business has grown into a conglomerate with some 15,000 employees.
The forward and backward integration of operations has made the AGC structure sustainable, Helen Binangbang, an AGC employee for 35 years, said in a video about the conglomerate.
Forward integration refers to the presence of retail stores in strategic locations in Bohol, and backward integration includes a rice mill that supplies the staple to supermarkets. The mill also supplies feeds to the piggery and poultry business, with the latter producing not only dressed chicken but also fertilizer.
The aqua farms produce black tiger prawns, white shrimp, tilapia and milkfish.
These business ventures are owned and managed by Marcela Farms Inc. (MFI), which was established in 1996. Other affiliated companies were eventually set up “to engage in hatchery, manufacturing and, just recently, resort operations,’’ AGC said on its website.
AGC’s supplies and produce have allowed it to survive the pandemic and to offer a wide range of services to the people of Bohol and nearby provinces, said Binangbang, an executive assistant to the general manager.
Its products and services are classified into:
1. Agro-industrial (MFI Piggery, MFI Rice Mill, MFI Aquaculture Farms)
2. Export (Bohol Agro-Marine Development Corp.)
3. Integrated retail (Leonard Distribution CDC, supermarkets, Fresh Market, Fixrite Hardware, Colonnade Supermarket, Plaza Marcela, Home & Lifestyle Store)
4. Food (Prawn Farm Grill & Seafood Restaurant, Peanut Kisses plant, noodles plant)
5. Family and entertainment (World of Fun, South Farms)
6. Hospitality (South Palms Resort, North Zen Villas)
7. Commercial (Alta Citta, Alturas Mall and Island City Mall in Tagbilaran, Alturas Mall Talibon, Alturas Tubigon, Alturas Biogas, MFI Feed Mill, MFI Dressing Plant, Alturas Glass Service providing glass and aluminum works for homes and buildings, and auto care, Bohol Tech Voc Inc. offering bartending, cookery, food and beverage services and housekeeping courses)
The management of South Palms Resort Panglao, which is adding more rooms with the construction of a boutique hotel in the newly launched Panglao Shores, has fallen on the shoulders of Hope Marie Uy, 34, the fourth of Marlito Uy’s six children.
It’s a natural fit for Hope, who holds a hotel and restaurant management degree from San Carlos University and who earned her hospitality chops at a beach resort in South Carolina in the United States.
Right after college, Hope landed an internship as a front desk clerk at the 500-room, full-service Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, which, like South Palms, is located on an island and has a beach front—but in the Atlantic, where, she said, the water was cold.
“I was there for almost two years,” she said. “Two years is enough.”
She described her work at the Marriot resort and spa as “a beautiful experience” that she has parlayed into her job as managing director of South Palms.
Asked if she had ever wired her parents for pocket money while in America, Hope said: “I tried my best not to ask for money from my parents just so they don’t bring me home.”
But return home she did in 2012, when her family acquired a beach resort. It was part of the Bohol Beach Club that was opened in the early 1980s by Anos Fonacier, considered Bohol’s father of tourism who foresaw the province’s potential as a prime tourist destination.
“He was like a brother to my Dad,” Hope said of Fonacier, who died in 2016 at the age of 89.
The Uys acquired the sprawling property when plans to build an international airport on the island were afoot. Fonacier had been part of the planning process for the international airport, according to Hope.
`Of course, you accept it’
The Uys developed the beach property and opened it as South Palms Resort Panglao in 2013, five years before the international airport came into service.
“When I came home from the United States, we had the opportunity to operate this property [South Palms Resort]. My family assigned me to manage this one,” she told CoverStory.ph, adding:
“Of course, you accept it. Right? This is your industry. This is what you love doing. When you’re in hospitality, you miss doing hospitality.”
Would she have stayed abroad for good had her family not acquired the beach resort?
Hope laughed and said: “I will always come back.”
She also had an opportunity to handle a small hospitality-oriented property with a cabana concept in Tagbilaran. “We started talking to branded hotels but the [talks did not pan out],” she said. “We’d like to invest in Panglao better than [in that property in the city], so we closed that.”
Hope’s siblings—Mae Angelie Uy-Yau, Dianne Uy-Yap, Johanna, Anna Roxanne Uy-Deaño and Mar Adonis—are, like her, working for AGC.
Anna, an accountant, is the financial controller of South Palms. Mae is a business management graduate, Dianne is in marketing, Johanna is a certified agriculturist, and Mar is an architect.
“Our Dad did not force anything on us, [but] molded us to be independent,’’ said Anna, who graduated from Silliman University in Dumaguete City. “Everything just fell into place.”
Unlike many well-off parents in the Philippine provinces who send their children to Manila or even abroad for higher education, the Uys sent their six kids to college in the Visayas.
Hope went to college in Cebu City because it was near her home province. “When you’re a Boholano, you find places where Bohol is accessible. So, Bohol was most accessible for me to come home to [from Cebu],” she said.
The pull of the province is so strong that she pines for it when she’s away. “You’ll miss it,” she said.
Anna shares Hope’s sense of pride as a Boholano: “We love the Bisaya culture. That’s why we say Bohol is amazing.”