In the now classic story, which have been made into several films, a father has two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance. “Father, give me my share of the estate,” he told him. And so, the father divided his property between his two sons.
After wasting his fortune (the word prodigal means “wastefully extravagant”), the prodigal son becomes destitute. He returns home with the intention of begging his father to be made one of his hired servants, expecting his relationship with his father is likely severed.
He did return and this was what happened: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The son told him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Instead of listening to him, the father instructed his servants: “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”
The account, chronicled in Luke 15:11-32, is one of the most popular parables shared by Jesus Christ. This author was reminded of it upon knowing the story of Severino “Totoy” Mercado, now an American citizen who visits his former hometown every now and then.
“Toy,” as his friends fondly called him, is not really a prodigal son but he came back to help manage the family business which his father started. Although he is now retired, he is still trying to help the venture.
He is the eldest son of Dr. Jesus Keyser Mercado, who was assigned in Kapalong as the municipal maternity and charity physician in 1946. In those years, the place was still covered with thick forest. “I actually grew up in the farm,” he told Davao journalist Lovely C. Carillo.
He was barely in his teens when he started making money – by cutting logs and he sold to the Alcantaras. He himself hauled the logs to the buyers.
But even then, life was hard. Carillo wrote: “He stopped going to school during his last month in high school since they could not afford the expenses. He was able to study at the University of the East, thanks to a ninong and ultimately at Mapua Institute of Technology where he took up Mechanical Engineering.
“He quit on his third year and went back to the farm in Kapalong and worked there again. Luckily, he finished college in five years, with some of his classmates already his professors.”
With a college degree, Toy worked as a canvasser for the Construction Development Corporation of the Philippines. Within three months, he became the company’s purchasing officer.
Even before overseas foreign worker (OFW) became a byword among Filipinos – although then President Ferdinand Marcos implemented the so-called “Development Diplomacy” in 1975 and saw the influx of Filipinos deployed abroad, mainly to the Middle East – Toy decided to go to the United States.
For 12 years, he worked as a salesman, glass cutter, draftsman and other odd jobs. He told Carillo that his work experiences on those times “gave him a more solid grasp of the art of dealing with people.”
But family beckoned. He was longing to go back to the place where he grew up. “Faced with the guilt of not helping his parents manage the family business, he went back to the Philippines in 1982,” Carillo wrote.
The family business was actually the banana plantation, which his father started. Dr. Mercado was the chairman, president and chief executive officer of the agricultural enterprises until his retirement in 1971. He relinquished the chairmanship to his son, Vicente P. Mercado.
On his return to the Philippines, Toy became the company’s president and general manager. Although he never had any background on business, particularly agriculture, he tried his best to apply what he learned through the years.
Toy believed that the key to success of any venture are the people. “If I have people that can be trained and I have confidence in them, then I find business for them,” he said of his business principle.
Carillo observed: “His secret lies in hiring trusted people who are not necessarily college graduates, and trained them. In fact, only a few of his employees are college graduates but most of them are the best in their fields.”
Toy didn’t only trust people, he also believed in diversification. In 1982, he started the swine business with only two boars and 10 finishers. With the help of the people, the business boomed. Today, the swine farm has an average population of about 15,000 to 16,000 animals.
The Pag-asa Farms serves local markets in Butuan City and some other abattoirs in Davao City. Its website stated: “It has secured a market niche in its immediate areas of influence in Caraga Region, Davao del Norte and Davao City where it assumes its bulk of sales at a frequency of 2-3 times a week.”
The orchid business was introduced in the late 1980’s. Actually, it all started with a hobby at the back of the family’s farmhouse. When a friend, who is a doctor, visited the farm, he was told to make money out of those flowers. “You are wasting your cutflowers when there are so many people in Manila who would like to buy them,” his friend told him.
At the start of 2000, another venture was introduced: crocodile farming.
Although he is now retired from the agricultural venture, Toy still takes pride of the agricultural business that his father started in the late 1940s. It is now managed by Atty. Carmen Leonor Mercado Alcantara with support from able staff and workers.
The business is indeed in good hands. ing. During my visit, I had the opportunity of roaming around the Pag-asa farm. Aside from those mentioned earlier, you also get a glimpse of various livestock (cattle, goats, and sheep) and poultry (ostriches, chickens, ducks, and turkeys).