BY MARLENE H. ELMENZO
TAGUIG CITY–BUILDING and selling high-end houses in a war-torn land like Jolo might appear surreal for some investors, especially overseas Filipino workers.
For former OFW Michael Abubakar who claims a successful realty business in his hometown, links with government is key.
Abubakar was recently awarded by a government-backed group for investing in this third class municipality and capital of Sulu.
Populated by traditionally peaceful tribes of Islamic believers, Jolo, Sulu, is also clutched in a shooting war between Philippine government armed forces and armed members of branded-terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah.
Abubakar and his residential subdivision-building business were recognized last December by the group of Jose Concepcion, government consultant for entrepreneurship, as one of the OFW entrepreneurs dubbed as “most inspiring.”
“Jolo was an impoverished land and you build a housing like this and parang siyang babae na na make-up-an mo. Bago pa makuha ng iba, ikaw pa ang unang na-fall in love,” Abubakar said. (“Jolo is like a woman you’ve applied make up on and before others take her, you would be the first to fall in love.”)
Abubakar used the past tense to refer to his hometown which he left in 1973 after fighting raged between government forces and Muslims rejecting the leadership of Manila-based elected officials.
Twenty-three years later, he returned home in one piece and rich, having sold a quarter-of-a-million peso house in plush Ayala-Alabang subdivision in Manila for thirty-seven times its value.
Likewise, Abubakar said he was receiving US$6,600 a month as salary from an American firm when he decided to go home in 1996.
With that money, he established the M. Abubakar Consolidated Engineering (Mace) in Manila and flew back to Jolo the year an Asian financial crisis popped the real estate sector of countries including the Philippines.
Like a clueless gardener sent to make a landscape out of a vast, arid lot, I was confronted with a serious predicament–where and how to start, Abubakar said.
The government began it for him through a joint-venture housing project for Muslims.
With one foot in the public sector and another in business, Abubakar tapped a five-year loan from the government housing agency and built the First Sulu Estate Subdivision in Patikul, one of Sulu’s 18 municipalities.
It was the first high-class subdivision established in the province, Abubakar claims.
“When you come to think about it, in Jolo you cannot find good clients,” he said. “No one told me that [the project) would be successful. Other people told me, ‘Oy, you’re just throwing good money after bad.’”
Even my wife thought I was going crazy, Abubakar said.
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