March 2, 2018

The Merchants of Taal in 1934 and a Business Model Based on Filipino Honesty

The Taal Basilica during the American Era.  Image source:  University of Michigan Digital Collection.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
The Taal Basilica during the American Era.  Image source:  University of Michigan Digital Collection.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
A 1934 Anthropology paper written by one Crisologo Atienza documented a remarkable business model used by the merchants of Taal that was totally dependent on Filipino honesty. The paper, entitled “The Industrial Survey of the Town of Taal, Batangas Province1” is part of the Henry Otley-Beyer collection of the National Library of the Philippines.

Still quite well known in the present day albeit not necessarily true anymore is that enterprises owned by those of Chinese origin were not allowed to gain a foothold in the town of Taal. Atienza explained: “…they (the Chinese) could not stay because no one dared to buy… This unique characteristic is transmitted from generation to generation…2
A more detailed discussion on which there used to be no Chinese allowed not just in Taal but also Lemery and to a certain extent Bauan is contained in this article: Why Once There were no Chinese in Taal, Lemery and Bauan in Batangas
This was apparently less from a sense of patriotism and more brought on by a sense of self-protection. Atienza wrote, “Its (Taal’s) nearness to Manila plus the pressures of population are factors that induce the people to be restless and specialists in many lines of trade and industry.”

There were local industries in Taal that produced bamboo baskets, buri mats, sacks called “bayones,” whips, leather products, cotton cloths and towels and many others3. Add to these dry goods, hardware and other miscellaneous products that were shipped to Taal by steam ships and the town had become something of an entrepôt. In contrast, Atienza wrote, to surrounding towns which were still very much agricultural in nature.
As if it needs mentioning, the balisong or the Batangueño fan knife was also among Taal's produce, and how the balisong industry got started was due to a decline in the sales of the bolo or macheta. Read more here: The Balisong and the Old Knife-Making Rivalry between Taal and Lipa
Taal’s stores and shops were kept mostly by its women. The men, meanwhile, “engaged themselves as traders or traveling merchants and have stores in the different towns of the province of Batangas, Tayabas (Quezon in the present day), Laguna, Mindoro, Romblon, Marinduque and in some of the Visayan Islands4.”

There were also traveling merchants who peddled their goods from house to house. These merchants roamed the Ilocos provinces, Pangasinan, Mindoro, Tayabas, Laguna, Marinduque, Romblon, Catanduanes and Albay. They brought with them sinamay, jusi and piña products and other woven cloths, slippers and bolos.

Many of these merchants followed a business model totally dependent on Filipino honesty. To coax people to buy, especially those who did not as yet have the capacity to pay or were waiting for potential income from, say, the harvest of crops, the merchants were prepared to leave the products with the buyers without payment.

No credit documents were ever signed or exchanged. Neither were receipts ever issued. All transactions were conducted purely on the basis of trust and honesty. The merchants returned the following year, usually after the harvest season, to collect their payments.

Remarkably, very few of the buyers defaulted on their payments. This, Atienza conjectured, was due to the Filipino’s natural honesty, especially those who lived in the barrios and remote places.

To conclude, and especially so in the context of Filipino society in the present day, one is tempted to ask where this natural honesty has gone; and more importantly, why has it seemingly disappeared?

Notes and references:
1The Industrial Survey of the Town of Taal, Batangas Province,” by Crisologo Atienza, 1934, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 A more complete discussion on the absence of Chinese merchants in Taal is contained in this article: “Why Once There were no Chinese in Taal, Lemery and Bauan in Batangas.”
3Industries of Batangas Province,” by Galicano C. Luansing, published 1916, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
4 During a CEAP Congress in Davao in 2003, colleagues and I bought presents from a market stall owned by a family originally from Taal.

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