Enrique Zobel de Ayala

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Enrique Zobel de Ayala was the first patriarch of the Zobel de Ayala Family. He was also the founder of Premio Zobel, the country's oldest literary prize. He was considered the most prestigious and richest businessman of the early American colonial period.

Early Life

Zobel de Ayala came from an impeccable lineage of three illustrious families. From his mother Trinidad de Ayala y Roxas's side, he was a descendant of the Ayala and Roxas families. His father was the prominent and liberal businessman, Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz, the first Filipino-born Zobel, descended from a German-Danish family with roots in the pharmaceutical business.

Early Life

Zobel de Ayala was born in Seville, Spain, on October 9, 1877, when his father and mother were temporarily residing to learn the rudiments of the tramcar and transportation industry.

He studied at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He received a bachelor of arts degree from [[Real Colegio de Alfonso XII] in El Escorial, Spain. He pursued postgraduate studies at Liceo de San Luis and the Sainte Barbe College, Paris. He was very much interested in engineering and mining, so he also took courses at the Ecole Superiour des Mines, Paris from 1897 to 1901. He also pursued the study of painting in the French capital.

When he returned to Manila in 1901, he married his cousin Consuelo Roxas de Ayala on October 16, 1901. The had three children: Jacobo, Alfonso and Mercedes. They had a very happy but short union, for Doña Consuelo succumbed to cholera in September 25, 1907.

He was a widower for three years, when he met Fermina Montojo de Torrontegui, the daughter of the Spanish admiral Patricio Montojo who had led the Spanish fleet against Commodore Dewey in the Battle of Manila Bay. They were married on November 12, 1911. They were blessed with four children: Matilde, Consuelo, Gloria, and Fernando, who would become the famous modern painter.

Business Career

Alongside Andres Soriano, Don Enrique became the foremost industrialist of the time,establishing major industries in the Philipines. Under his leadership the Zobel de Ayala family established factories for the manufacturing of soap, bricks, oils, cochineals and tobacco. He went into coal mining in Compostela, Cebu and established a modern sugar central and alcohol distilleries. He established La Porcelanica, a porcelain factory in 1903 and together with Soriano the first glass factory.

He co-founded Filipinas Compañia de Seguros in 1913 and began a string of business interests in the insurance and finance business as vice president of Insular Life Assurance Co., a director of Philippine Guaranty Co. and a director of Banco Español-Filipino. He expanded the Ayala y Compañia's interest in the real estate business by encouraging the urbanization of several towns in Rizal province. He also inherited the large tract of land of Hacienda de San Pedro de Macati, which would become the future basis of the Ayala wealth.

Cultural and Philanthropic Activities

Don Enrique inherited the liberal ideas and interests of his father Don Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz. Like his father he was educated in Europe, not only in business and sciences, but also in the arts. He loved the cultivation of the arts and culture. His mansion on Plaza del Carmen and Leon Guerrero Street in Ermita became the focal point of many tertulias and salon de artistas.

He donated his vast collection of books on European literature to the University of the Philippines library. He was the first modern Hispanist and founded Premio Zobel in 1920, in order to preserve and promote the use of the Spanish language, which he believed was the true language of Filipino nationalists. Together with brother Fernando he co-founded Casino Español de Manila, a socio-civic club for Hispano-Filipinos. He established the Patronato Escolar Español and the Asociación Pro-Idioma Hispano, both efforts directed at strengthening the role of Spanish in the educational system. Don Enrique's great obsession was the conservation of the spiritual ties between Spain and the Philippines through the promotion of its language and culture.

The Premio Zobel was the fulfillment of his desire that "No quiero que el español muera en Filipinas." He was a founding member of Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española in 1924, which became the correspondent of the prestigious Real Academia de la Lengua Española.

He dabbled as a Spanish-language publisher when he resuscitated the moribund El Mercantil. He supported the arts and gave scholarships among them to Fernando Amorsolo, who in gratitude would teach his son Fernando the rudiments of art.

In 1930 he helped fund the construction of the Metropolitan Theater of Manila, a landmark Art Deco building designed by National Artist Juan Arellano. He was the treasurer of Metropolitan Theater Co. and the president was Horace B. Pond and his cousin Antonio Melian acted as its vice-president.

IN 1936 he reported the discovery of a horde of Oriental pottery found on his Calatagan propperty to the National Museum director Eduardo Quisumbing and subsequently funded the ensuing excavations.

In April 1939 he was appointed by General Francisco Franco as the acting consul for Spain in the Philippines. The government of Spain in admiration of his many philanthropic and cultural causes awarded him the Gran Cruz de Isabela la Católica and the Medalla del Mérito Civil.

Don Enrique died on February 17, 1943, at the height of the Japanese Occupation during World War II, thinking that all that he had worked for was lost. Little did he know that the future heirs of the Zobel de Ayala Family that he started would continue his glorious legacy of financial astuteness and philanthrophy.


  • Brillantes, Lourdes. 81 Years of Premio Zobel. Makati, Georgina Padilla Zobel, 2006.
  • Cornejo, M.R.Commonwealth Directory of the Philippines, 1939.
  • Manuel, E. Arsenio.Dictionary of Philippine Biographies Volume 3. Quezon City, Filipiniana Publications, 1955.