Archive for the ‘bus makers Tabaco’ Category

The Buses And Bus-Makers of Bicol

November 7, 2008

Once upon a time one bus company dominated the landscape of Bicol.  The combined ALATCO-BITRANCO-CAL completely dominated all the lines, from the major to the minor including routes going to the far-flung barrios.  In almost every town it has a terminal where buses and crew lay down for the night.  In anticipation of the next day’s market, the bus consortium even lays over buses in the interior barrios.  There were no jeepneys then.

ALATCO stood for A.L. Ammen Transportation Company, the first bus company in the country. BITRANCO is Bicol Transportation Company and CAL means Consolidated Auto Lines. ALATCO and BITRANCO sported near-identical red liveries while CAL used a yellow-orange livery. While ALATCO and BITRANCO mainly used full-sized buses, CAL used mini-buses and it concentrated in the barrio and minor routes.  The consortium was headquartered in Iriga City.

But before the end of the ’60s the consotium floundered.  It was bought by PANTRANCO (Pangasinan Transportation Company) whose reputed beneficial owners are the Marcoses.  It was renamed PANTRANCO South and later Philtranco Service Enterprise, Inc. (PSEI).  

PANTRANCO South and Philtranco never lived up to the legacy of ALATCO.  It withdrew from the minor and barrio routes then slowly concentrated on the Manila run.  Later they fully abandoned the local Bicol routes.

From a legend in maintenance and service, PANTRANCO South and Philtranco began fielding unsafe and shoddy units.  It was associated with taking forever on the road and poor service. Bicolanos started to shun the bus company.  With that, new Bicol bus companies began emerging starting with JB Lines.  Soon the so-called “colorums” of Bicol began sprouting.  Its main weapon was its low fares.

For a while Philtranco made a comeback with the entry of Pepito Alvarez, who re-capitalized the company.  But soon the former “colorums” started easing out Philtranco in more and more routes.  It was offering a flat rate to Bicol which was only half of what Philtranco is charging. Even today with high fuel prices, it is offering fares in the range of P300-350 (ordinary class).  It is now the bus of the masses and in this role it supplanted the moribund Philippine National Railways (PNR) trains.

Its buses are now much improved.  From “fly-by-night” and TOP (Temporary Operator’s Permit) operations, it slowly legalized itself.  It even bought old franchises from defunct bus companies.

Was is their secret? One, they are able to pack in their buses and it is good in looking for passengers in the highway.  It even uses “hustlers” for this.  It also assembles most of its units using mid-sized but thrifty engines.  This gave rise to the Bicol bus-making industry which is centered in Tabaco City.  Its RMB and JYQ brand of buses are among the most prominent and it is even “exported” now to other regions like the Eastern Visayas.

Its operations are low-cost, no-frills.  To comply with terminal requirements, it just make arrangements with carinderias (food joints) so passengers will have a comfort room to use and chairs to sit on.  Many do not even have inspectors.  And they have no expensive terminals and depots to maintain.

Now some of the old “colorums” can even buy new units including air-conditioned ones while Philtranco is content with rehabilitated/re-bodied units (but factory-done so it still looks good).  Among the former upstarts that upset Philtranco are St. Jude/Buban, TAWTRASCO, Antonina, JVH, A. Bragais, Barbosa, I. Bea, R.U. Diaz/RJ, N. Bolanos and A. Arandia.  Most of it came from the 1st District of Albay whose center is Tabaco City.

At the top end, Philtranco is squeezed by quality operators like Isarog, Penafrancia, RSL, Cagsawa, Executive Carriers and Gold Line.  But looming on the horizon, with ever-increasing shadows is Raymond Transportation.  More and more it is being called as the “new Philtranco” of Bicol.  Not bad for a former mini-bus operator in Calauag, Quezon some 20 years ago whose first Bicol route is a line to Ragay, Camarines Sur.

Good that Bicol is a deregulated area like Eastern Visayas.  Without it these upstarts might not have made it.  Bicolanos enjoyed choice and lower fares as a result.  

PANTRANCO South and Philtranco abandoned the local Bicol routes and ALATCO’s legacy.  It is where their challengers emerged.  Karma?


The G7 Bank And Avenue Square

November 6, 2008

Last August 1,  the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) padlocked the G7 Bank, a hi-flying, prominent chain of rural banks in Bicol owned by Fidel “Totoy” Cu. This heralded the final collapse of the bank which was experiencing liquidity problems for over three months already. 

I had been amazed by the rise of the G7 Bank.  When it was renamed I was not able to connect that it was the former Rural Bank of Nabua, Inc. (RNBI).  From the time Totoy Cu bought its solitary branch in 1979 it grew to 7 branches with a deposit base of P3.4 billion.   It was able to open a branch in Ortigas and Totoy Cu and the bank were receiving award after award.  I thought G7 Bank was already on the way.

In the past years I was a regular visitor to Naga and I was able to watch how the Magsaysay Avenue nightstrip developed.  Nobody questions that the queen of the strip is Avenue Square with its hotel and shops.  Suddenly, the old benchmarks of Naga were swept away.  Avenue Square looked modern in every sense. I can say that in comparing it to other cities’ developments it does not look provincial!

Yes, I thought Totoy Cu was already in the way.  I thought, at last, here’s another local who is big and brave enough to do battle with Manila real estate investors.  Just like Bigg’s in the food business who fought Jollibee in more than even terms and New South Star Drug who is giving Mercury Drug a run for its money.

Do i have a bone against Manila chains or investors?  Only  if they rake in profits and move it out of the region because if that happens no real self-sustaining progress will happen in the region. And that is my fear in the coming of ShoeMart (SM).  Mercury Drug has already been in Bicol for the last 30 years.  Jollibee and McDonald’s has been around for more than 15 years. The three might have served the consumers better but did it help develop the region?

I had been hoping that the Bicol Region can produce its own champions in the mold of Bigg’s, New South Star Drug, Co Say, Candano, the bus makers of Tabaco, LCC.  There is no sense in just waiting for outsiders to come.  It might just be like waiting for rain on a summer day.

Then G7 Bank collapsed.  I am not sure if the jeering is warranted.

I had been all over the Philippines.  In other regions, people identify with its champions. Cebu identifies with Gaisano, Cagayan de Oro identifies with Limketkai, Davao with NCCC, Zamboanga with its fish canneries, Bacolod with Ceres Bus, etc. 

In Bicol I have heard a lot of negatives about some of its leading businesses. I am aware that at times the business practices of some is not exactly above reproach.  But do we wish them unwell? They could be our engine of growth. As they say, in business, like in politics, there are no saints.