"People like Ang see the future beyond the tips of their noses."
Finally, the long-awaited first step toward a real solution to the national capital’s airport congestion has been taken. The Department of Transportation, through Secretary Art Tugade and San Miguel Corporation, through its CEO, Mr. Ramon S. Ang, signed the agreement to construct a new international gateway in the sleepy town of Bulakan, Bulacan.
For sure there were, and still are, other options presented, principal among which is the proposal to build a new airport in Sangley and the environs of Cavite City, right across the Manila Bay from the present NAIA.
Meanwhile, the airport congestion has reached crisis proportions, stunting the growth of tourism, vexing both international and domestic passengers, and casting doubts among would-be foreign investors whose first and last brief impression of the country is the woeful inadequacy of our premier gateway.
Now Mr. Ang goes one step further, proposing a PPP for an all-steel 10-lane expressway connecting Macapagal Avenue in NCR’s southwest to Caloocan in the northeast to ease the humongous traffic that all must bear in EDSA and C-5 combined, while Senator Grace Poe and the executive department debate whether or not a needed grant of emergency powers to the president presented three years ago is still needed, even as the traffic along EDSA and C-5 continues to multiply.
And Mr. Ang promises that he can build his all-steel highway within 30 months, the same period, even less, since the debate over emergency powers began in Senator Poe’s Senate committee.
Flashback to the time when President Joseph Estrada still held court in Malacanang, and I was his Philippine Tourism Authority general manager at the same time Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs. The double job meant going to the then-Tourism headquarters in one of the neo-classical buildings at Agrifina Circle, now converted to the Museum of Natural History before eight each morning, then to Malacañang five minutes away by car at past three each afternoon, thence leave the palace at around nine or ten at night.
In one of those palace routines, I chanced upon Mr. Ang who was waiting for his turn to speak to President Estrada. In casual conversation, I told him about a plan to turn the government property assigned to the then Public Estates Authority (now Philippine Reclamation Authority) into an entertainment center which would serve as a tourist magnet for Metro Manila. I intimated that I had talked to then PEA Chairman Frisco San Juan (of departed memory), and he approved of the idea.
But Mr. Ang came up with a different idea: “Why not sell Pagcor instead?” He further explained that government should not be in the business of gaming, rather be a regulator of the industry.
“We sell it to the big boys, you know, Las Vegas types. Assume we get, say 10 billion dollars for it. With that as seed money, government can turn around and borrow at least ten times over. That’s a hundred billion dollars,” he said.
“We can then build super highways that would connect the tip of Luzon in the north all the way to Bicol, and even more. We can build a new international airport that looks like Changi in Singapore or Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong.”
“Imagine the job creation, and the efficiency from the point of view of logistics; the convenience for passengers, both domestic and foreign travelers…” Mr. Ang said, until the secretary summoned him for his meeting with the President.
That was the year 1999. The following year, Pres. Estrada’s reign was discombobulated by the revelations of Chavit Singson. By the end of January, he was out of the palace.
The new Pagcor chair was Ephraim Genuino. He got President Macapagal-Arroyo to approve the concept of an entertainment city cum gambling mecca in the reclamation area.
Meanwhile, Ramon Ang proceeded with public-private-partnership projects, and built so many new highways, including the extension of the toll expressways in the north. (Balintawak to Pozorrubio is now doable in two hours, and by next year it will end in Rosario, La Union, from where you ascend Marcos Highway to Baguio). In a matter of a few years of feverish construction, we now have the NAIA airport tollways that connect the gateway to the entertainment city, to Makati and Taguig, as well as the SLEX. He is soon completing the connector highways that will span NLEX and SLEX, thereby alleviating the traffic load in EDSA as well as other main thoroughfares, traffic that has been a daily curse upon almost every NCR resident or transient.
And now the Bulakan international airport and a promise of four parallel runways, with future expansion if needed to six runways, versus NAIA’s single runway. Along with connector roads to the NLEX-SLEX connector, and another connecting highway through Navotas and into Manila.
It is visionaries like Ramon S. Ang, a private person who heads the huge conglomerate built originally from beer, who see the future beyond the tips of their noses, and rather than just dream, or drool at what they see in other foreign countries, utilize their talents to build, build, build. And put money where others can only offer their mouth.