Margarita Roxas de Ayala (1826-1869) was the one of the first philanthropists, the first great matriarch of the Roxas, Ayala and Zobel families and one of the greatest Philippine businesswomen of all time. She was the eldest daughter of Don Domingo Roxas, founder of Casa Roxas (later Ayala y Compañia), and one of the greatest businessmen and Filipino exponents of the Spanish colonial era.
She was born in Manila on July 29, 1826. She was the eldest child of Domingo Roxas, who founded Casa Roxas, and Maria Saturnina Ubaldo, a Spaniard. During her early life she suggered great indignity and injustice when her father Don Domingo was incarcerated three time.. The Spanish colonial authorities suspected that her father was a sympathizer of the Filipino cause and had published anti-Spanish tracts. This was because Don Domingo was one of the earliest industrialists of the Philippines and had opposed the sugar and alcohol monopoly. He was also an advocate for liberal reforms. Most damning of all was that Don Pedro had actively supported the Cofradia de San Jose, the organization of Apolinario de la Cruz or Hermano Pule.
On her father's third incarceration in 1842 (her father was already over 60 years old) she took on a dangerous voyage to Spain to personally seek the father's pardon from Queen Isabela II. After six months of patiently waiting outside the Spanish royal court, Isabella II was so impressed with young Margarita's determination that she granted her father's release.
After sailing in 1843 for several months back to the Philippines (the Suez Canal had still not been opened), she arrived too late to see her father's liberation, for he had died in prison.
Ascendance of the Roxas y Ayala Empire
In 1843 she assumed control of the her father's company, combining both her business and civic work. Domingo Roxas' children renamed the company to Roxas Hijos. Later the company name was changed yet again to Roxas Hermanos, when her younger brother Don Jose Bonifacio Roxas left to manage his own company.
On the foundations of her father's business, she diversified into real estate, mining, and alcohol production. She bought large tracts of swamplands all over the Philippines, including in Candaba, Pampanga, Calatagan, Batangas, and in 1850 to Capiz, where she sent her distant nephew Antonio Roxas (great grandson of her uncle Antonio Roxas y Ureta to start the nipa palm business. She personally supervised her field foremen (capataz) in the harvesting of nipa palm alcohol which became the basis of Ginebra Ayala.
In 1844, she married her father's partner who was 25 years her junior, Don Antonio de Ayala, a Spaniard from the Basque region of Alava de Ayala, Spain. They honeymooned in Europe and upon their return they set about in expanding the business. When her youngest brother Mariano Roxas died, the company name was changed once again to Ayala Compañia, which survives to this day as the Ayala Corporation. She quickly expanded into mining when she opened the first coal mine in Pandan Creek, Naga, Cebu and another one in Atimonan, Quezon. She opened the Philippines' first distillery, turning nipa palm into alcohol. To that end she purchased 5,000 hectares in San Esteban, Pampanga, near the present towns of Macabebe and Masantol. She journeyed herself to her various businesses as far as Cebu and Capiz.
With her newly acquired wealth, she became the foremost philanthropist of her time, donating her own summer residence called La Concordia in Santa Ana, Manila in 1868 to the Colegio de la Concordia, which survives to this day as La Concordia College. The school upon her instruction was staffed by a Spanish order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity and dedicated to educating and giving scholarships to marginalized women. Its official name though was Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion La Concordia.
With uncommon zeal she dedicated herself to various endeavors of charity. She became the president of the Conferencias de San Vicente de Paul in 1861 when the Jesuit superior, Fr. Jose Fernandez Cuevas recommened her for the position. Fr. Clotet related that " she entered the houses of the poor and visited the slums to see the sick and invalids, helping them in their needs both material and spiritual, or alleviating their miseries and assuaging the griefs of widows and orphans, who always received from Mrs. Ayala her protection and solace. And this did not exhaust her charitable spirit; she took under her charge and sustenance many families who had been in one way or another victims of calamity." After the destruction of San Juan de Dios Hospital after the earthquake of 1863, she led its reconstruction efforts by forming a "bazar de caridad" to raise funds, collecting several thousands of pesos. She sponsored a separate ward for poor in the same hospital. Such was her philanthropic fame that even the national hero Jose Rizal in his personal diary noted that he knew of Doña Margarita's many acts of philanthrophy on 31 March 1884.
In 1851 her brother Don Jose Bonifacio Roxas bought the a former Jesuit-owned estate in Rizal province, around 1,650 hectares to establish Hacienda San Pedro de Macati. In that same year she and Don Antonio cofounded Banco Español-Filipino de Isabel II, currently known as Bank of the Philippine Islands. It was the first private commercial bank in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and Don Antonio became one of its first directors. In 1864 Doña Margarita and her other brother Mariano Roxas and her husband formed Roxas Hermanos, without Don Jose.
Upon the death of her brother Don Mariano in 1868, she changed the company name to Ayala y Compañia
On November 1, 1869 Doña Margarita died and left Don Antonio to run the company single-handedly until his death in 1876.
They had three daughters. The first daughter Carmen Roxas de Ayala would marry her cousin Don Pedro Pablo Roxas and their daughter Margarita Roxas de Ayala y Roxas would later marry Eduardo Soriano. They would become the parents of San Miguel Corporation industrialist Andres Soriano.
Doña Margarita's and Don Antonio's other daughter Doña Trinidad de Ayala would later marry Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz to start the legendary Zobel de Ayala Family. Eldest daughter Camila would marry Andres Ortiz de Zarate but died without any heir. Upon the death of Don Antonio, Carmen and Trinidad continued the management of Ayala y Cia.
On her grave a inscription fittingly describes her spectacular but brief life:
Margarita Roxas de Ayala
Murió el 1. de noviembre de 1869
a los 43 años
Asociándose a los pobres encontró el secreto
de interesar a Dios en su fortuna
He ahí su historia.
Memoria de su esposo y hijas.