The Philippines, much like every other country in the world, is facing a very challenging and difficult time. Filipinos’ day-to-day lives have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways: the loss of some family members, jobs and income, mobility and even homes because of travel restrictions.
Because of such challenges, there is an overwhelming need for ways to overcome them and for changes to better improve the situation amid the pandemic. There must be focused and noble leadership that would lead the charge in pursuit of properly addressing the country’s problems, notably COVID-19 and map out a brighter future for the 110 million Filipinos.
In the last four months, the country has seen the emergence of modern-day heroes and the business sector is no exception. On top of the list is San Miguel Corp. under the leadership of president and chief operations officer Ramon Ang, known to many as RSA. What he has initiated through the SMC to help not only his employees and the front line workers, but also every Filipino throughout the country is a source of inspiration.
Coming forward to bring about silver lining over the dark clouds hovering over the horizon, RSA has answered the clarion call of President Duterte’s call for the private sector to help the government and the Filipino people to surmount the crisis when the country was placed under a state of emergency and enhanced community quarantine in March.
Living true to form in embracing the noble Filipino trait called “malasakit,” RSA has been serving as the catalyst and rallying leader in the business sector to stay the course to pump prime the economy and extend much needed help to his countrymen through series of relief operations during the pandemic. RSA has been rising as the Philippines’ number one philanthropist, to say the least.
Ang was born on Jan. 14, 1954 in Manila. He finished his education with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Far Eastern University. At a young age, he was described by his friends and associates as headstrong and hardworking. He began his long and fruitful career in business by repairing and selling used Japanese trucks and car engines that eventually led him to the recently departed Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., by selling aluminum wheels and reconditioning vintage cars.
From there, he slowly built his way to the top, exhibiting his flair for entrepreneurship while remaining humble and never forgetting his humble roots. Although he has many professional endeavors, such as the Top Frontier Investment Holdings Inc. and Eagle Cement Corporation, he is best known for his groundbreaking work at San Miguel Corp. He was appointed SMC president and COO in 2002, when Francisco Eismendi retired. From then on, he has been managing the conglomerate’s day-to-day operations and the welfare of its people.
Ang’s work and legacy continued to grow from there, especially with his position as SMC’s largest shareholder. His vision for the company entailed not only keeping it afloat, but also ensuring its growth and progress. He spearheaded SMC’s development from a food and beverage company to one of the Philippines’ most diversified conglomerates. In an interview with a newspaper in 2012, he said, “When we started to diversify, people said I was crazy. But when you look at how far we’ve come today, do you think we made the right move or not?”
As a visionary executive, RSA was on course to bring SMC to greater heights by successfully diversifying the conglomerate’s interests in brewery, oil, power, mining, infrastructure and car distribution.
In a speech at the Junior Chamber International Senate of the Philippines’ The Outstanding Filipino Award in December 2019, of which he was among the six eminent TOFIL awardees, his now departed son Jomar Ang delivered in his father’s behalf: “We, at SMC, transformed and diversified to keep up with the changing times. I am proud to say that ten years later, our businesses are much stronger and today. SMC contributes to more than five percent of our country’s GDP, equivalent to over a trillion pesos in sales revenue.”
As a TOFIL Awardee in 2019, no less than former Philippine President Fidel Ramos lauded the SMC top honcho saying, “Mr. Ang is a patriotic Filipino and a strategic thinker. Development simply cannot proceed with adequate infrastructure and to fast-track this needs private sector participation. He has a grasp of what it means to be maka-Diyos, maka-Tao, maka-Kalikasan and maka-Bansa. But more importantly, Mr. Ang takes to heart and fully embraces the Filipino trait, malasakit.”
Ang would never forget that the Filipino people has supported SMC through the years. As a form of giving back and showing what Filipinos can do to survive, he has been helping them in every way he can, especially today with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the Philippines. Because the virus has put a very real threat to human lives, Ang was at the forefront of showcasing the value of life above all else.
“What is more important are lives, not money. We can make money again, but life, once you lose it, it’s gone forever. So between money and life, I’d choose life,” Ang said during an interview with CNN.
His statement made such a great impact especially bearing in mind that just a few days after talking to CNN, he lost his son, Jomar, on April 13, 2020. He said, “Jomar was a dutiful, loving, and kind-hearted son, brother and a loyal and dedicated friend to many. He was a source of great joy to us and we are truly blessed to have had his love and presence in our lives. We know in our hearts that he is in a much better place now.”
No one could ever prepare for the pain of a parent losing one’s child, especially when said child was in the prime of his life. But if there’s one thing that this experience could teach anyone, it’s recognizing the precious value of life. By his noble acts of charity, RSA showed the importance of life above anything else.
For example, he ensured the security of the food supply amid the pandemic and the storm of consumers panic-buying basic essentials back in March when the ECQ was initially enforced. He said, “As far as food supply is concerned, we have the capability to produce enough for everybody and deliver to supermarkets.”
Under Ang’s leadership, SMC has also rolled out a series of expenses dedicated to the COVID-19 relief response. As of July, SMC has spent more than P13 billion all in all. About P4 billion went to the compensations for SMC employees—ensuring that they still get their full salaries and additional allowances despite the minimized operations—and to the donations of basic essentials—especially food—to the poor communities. Almost P9 billion went to government funds. More than 1.2 million liters of alcohol were distributed to various hospitals and homes. Overall, their efforts benefited over 1.6 million households and 4,000 hospitals.
SMC’s newest initiative is the Better World Edsa facility, a state-of-the-art COVID-19 RT-PCR testing laboratory which aims to test some 70,000 employees in its network. It is equipped with two sets of RT-PCR machines and fully automated nucleic acid extraction systems or NATCH. A set is comprised of two PCR machines and one NATCH. It has the capacity to process 4,000 tests per day. With the facility in place, the country’s testing and processing facilities will be unburdened.
In an interview with foreign correspondents and was asked if he was concern that he is giving away too much of the company’s money, Mr. Ang replied.
“We cannot afford to simply not move forward because of the pandemic. We have to make sure that our economy keeps on going, so with the livelihood of our people as well as the flagship projects that we have embarked on. We can make money again but life, once you lose it, it’s gone forever. So between money and life, I’d choose life.”
Apart from that, Ang also helped local businesses such as farms in Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan by vowing to buy surplus fresh carabao milk of 10,000 liters a day. Because of the limited operations in Metro Manila and other provinces in the country, the usual market for fresh carabao milk was lessened. Ang told Rappler, “It’s heartbreaking. There is so much excess milk that goes to waste, instead of giving them to where they are most needed. By buying their excess milk, we are hoping to help not only our farmers stay in business, but also get this produce to food banks and communities to help address the growing food insecurity facing the poorest families.”
Ang’s other initiative to combat food insecurity is feeding the locally stranded individuals (LSI) at the North Harbor through SMC’s food bank and community center, Better World Tondo. As of July 7, there are over 300 LSIs supposedly bound for Wester Visayas. They, together with the port frontliners monitoring the LSIs, were able to receive, so far, 7,740 meals. The LSIs will continue to receive free meals until they’re all able to go home to their respective provinces.
Building bright future
During the TOFIL awards, Ang said, “We [at SMC] don’t just do business for our shareholders. We build the foundations of our country’s growth and make the world better for our kababayans.”
One of SMC’s major undertakings is the New Manila International Airport. Also known as the Bulacan International Airport, the P735.6 billion-project is, as Ang said, “our single-biggest investment in the country. It is a landmark Filipino project that will be built at no cost to the government and with no subsidies or guarantees of any kind.” The airport promises to cater to at least 100 million passengers per year, create 30 million jobs, ease the Metro Manila traffic, and develop the Central Luzon provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecijia, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales.
The mega project is lauded by many, such as Filipino-American leaders, Roger Oriel, president of the Asian Journal Group of Publications, and Eddie Ferrer, president of the Pangasinan Brotherhood Association. Oriel said, “We welcome with great pride and expectations the approval of the Bulacan International Airport as this will further boost travel and tourism.” Ferrer added, “We salute Mr. Ang for his vision and derring do attitude for investing in large-scale big ticket projects such as the Bulacan International Airport, Skyways and the Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union Expressway or TPLEX. Modern road networks and world-class airports are what a modernizing Philippines needs in the millennial times.”
His other projects to further the development of the Philippines are: Skyway Stage 3, which will connect the north and south, reduce traffic in EDSA by at least 50 percent and cut travel time from Balintawak to Magallanes from 1.5 hours to twenty minutes; extension of Skyway to Susana Heights in Muntinlupa, which would decongest Muntinlupa, Sucat and Bicutan; and MRT 7, which would run from EDSA Trinoma to Quezon City Circle, Commonwealth and Fairview to San Jose Del Monte Bulacan. As Ang said, “What we hope to build is a long-term solution—a sustainable and world-class Philippine gateway with enough runways and facilities to meet current and future needs.”
Speaking of sustainability, Ang would continue their dedication to it, as it has been long integrated in their operations. He said, “Apart from a major water sustainability initiative, we have also taken a bigger and more active role in helping address the country’s plastic wages problem.” They are doing so by converting waste plastics and rubber files to fuel substitutes for their cement plants.
Moreover, they are building 15 new facilities all over the Philippines using cement made from waste plastics as fuel. They are also using biodegradable plastics for most of their products’ packaging and they built a road using asphalt made with waste plastics, the first ever recycled plastics road in the country.
“San Miguel’s vision has always been to deliver on our nation’s goals, to set the pace for progress and to make the lives of every Filipino better. We are in a better position to get big projects done because of our scale, leadership, expertise, technology, and resources. [...] What drives everything is our greater purpose to help make the Philippines better because this is our country and our home,” Ang said at the TOFIL Awards 2019.
RSA is one Filipino leader the country needs because he inspires Filipinos to strive for a better life—to not just settle with survival amid challenges, but to actually thrive despite them; to refuse mere resilience and, instead, to actively combat whatever obstacles that may come our way. He shows us how bright the country’s future could be.
As the country continues its fight to contain COVID-19, it’s hard to say how many more businesses will close and how many more workers will lose jobs. But the country will pull through because of business leaders like RSA.
“Let us all continue to adopt our malasakit mindset and focus on what we, as individuals, can do to make a difference, because many are counting on us,” Ang told SMC employees.
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