When business tycoon Roberto “Bobby” Velayo Ongpin died last February 5 in his sleep “cradled in the arms of his beloved Balesin,” as a columnist poetically put it, media was abuzz with the passing of the taipan, billionaire, technocrat and visionary and chairman and CEO of Alphaland, the multi-billion high-end and debt-free developer of Balesin Island Club and many other prime property developments.
Among all the attributes of Bobby, aside from being a tycoon and billionaire, was that of a visionary that he was.
Being a good friend when Bobby was at the old Ateneo de Manila High School at the Loyola Heights, Quezon City, we had frequent intimate conversations about his plans for the Balesin Island Club, a debt-free multi–billion high end property development in the Philippines.
Ongpin had envisioned the Philippines to be a great country.
What I miss most was his monthly letters to Balesin Island Club members and guests where he would detail what he has done and what he will do.
I do wish that Eric Ongpin Recto, a former finance undersecretary, now the Chairman and CEO of Alphaland, could resume that monthly letter to Balesin Island Club members and guests.
I have said and, I repeat, Eric Recto is more than qualified to take over Alphaland as chairman and CEO.
Eric was with RVO and his associates and co-workers knew him.
I knew Eric when Bobby first started Alphaland because he was with Bobby from the start, but somehow they parted ways when Eric went on his own.
I knew when Bobby started his signature property development, Balesin Island Club.
It was a small island off the coast of Quezon province, then owned by his former undersecretary when Ongpin was then minister of trade under then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Actually, Balesin Island was then jointly owned by Ed Tordesillas and industrialist Baby Ysmael.
After Ongpin returned to the country from Hong Kong, where he was after the exile of Marcos Sr. he started doing business.
As Tony Lopez of BizNews Asia described him, he was a management expert, entrepreneur and wheeler-dealer par excellence.
I was then the government nominee of the sequestered ETPI (Eastern Telecommunications of the Philippines, Inc.), when, as its chairman, I helped Bobby buy out the firm.
Bobby soon sold ETPI to Ramon S. Ang, chairman and CEO of San Miguel, who in turn sold it to Smart and Globe.
Santa Banana, would you believe that an Australian firm, minority stockholders of ETPI, sued me, accusing me of bias.
Of course, I would sell ETPI to a Filipino rather than to a foreign firm, which the Australians wanted me to do.
As I said, Bobby is truly a visionary.
Would you believe he was then with the Highlands Group of Tagaytay where he envisioned it as it is now.
When he started Balesin Island, with pride I saw him build the island to become a premiere paradise destination in the Philippines, building 7 themed villages, 28 restaurants for members only, each unique in many ways, with a 2.5 kilometer runway with its own fresh water fish, crab and shrimp sanctuary.
Debt-free Alphaland Corp. is now expanding into nearby 732 hectare Patnanungan Island called Balesin International Gateway (BIG) with a 2.5-km runway, five five-star hotels and 18-hole golf courses and 1,834 luxury beach and golf course homes.
The idea: Attract the world’s high-end network individuals to enjoy the most unique beach resort and nature enclave.
Eric Recto is now pushing through with the development.
And with the arrival of high-end jet hydrofoil, Balesin members and their guests could spend a whole day at BIG and return at night.
Santa Banana, with one-minute spots at CNN, Ongpin aimed to attract millionaires and billionaires from Japan, South Korea, and even from China to become members of Balesin.
With Bobby’s midas touch and with Eric Recto’s genius, all this will be realized.
RVO has indeed built a billion dollar fortune from scratch.
I must add RVO had guts and a midas touch which many taipans and tycoons do not have.
Bobby’s last vision was to make Balesin the off-weather destination of premier soccer leagues worldwide.
In fact, he had built an entire soccer field area in Balesin where soccer players could play, complete with a grandstand and an entire air-conditioned dormitory under it. In fact, he had invited American football players from Laguna to play regularly at Balesin, hoping that he would popularize soccer in the country.
He often told me that Filipinos should play soccer more than basketball, where height is not needed.
Forbes Park of Baguio
Another signature project of Alphaland— the Baguio Mountain Lodges, which I call the Forbes Park of the summer capital, Baguio—is an 8-hectare fully secure community, barely nine kilometers from Baguio central, where Alphaland has built lodges for the rich and famous.
It is now a fully occupied hillside community, with all the amenities like a gymnasium where the young can play basketball and tennis, a chapel and even a high-end spa.
The residents do not have to go to the city since Alphaland has provided well-known restaurants rent-free at the entry.
It’s complete with helipads for those who want to go to Baguio by helicopter.
I saw the place when Ongpin’s three- room cottage on a hill was the only habitable thing built, serving as Ongpin’s getaway when he was managing partner of SGV.
I was there to have lunch with Bobby.
Now, it’s a sprawling community, a getaway for the rich and famous.
Oh, I had wished to have one of those units, but at the pricey cost of P40 to P50 million a piece, I couldn’t dream of buying one.
The Alpha Suites and CityClub
This column on “Missing Bobby Ongpin” would not be complete if I do not include the hotel residence that Ongpin built on the former property of Goodyear at the end of Ayala Avenue.
That residence hotel has been called the best place to stay by a survey on hotels.
And, of course, there is the City Club, the premiere leisure and sports club of the country.
Yes, my gulay, I’m a member of the City Club, my eternal thanks to Bobby, who gave me a complimentary membership, minus the eating in its beautiful restaurants.
An era of partnerships
I could not believe it when I read the dominant broadcast network GMA-7 now has partnered with its foremost competitor ABS-CBN.
This was after Congress failed to renew, Santa Banana, its 25-year lease franchise by the National Telecommunications Commission.
This announcement was made by no less than GMA-7 chairman and CEO Felipe Henry Gozon himself amid a slowdown of advertising revenue and expensive production costs.
Gozon said “we are now in an era of partnerships and this has led our expansion to new genres and diversified our revenue streams.”
Gozon was referring to deals with global platforms and even with ABS-CBN, once the giant network, GMA-7 continues to produce its own shows like the highly-rated Filipino-made live action reboot of the 1970s anime classic Voltes V, which Gozon said came with a price tag of P500 million.
Apart from its core business, GMA-7 also invested its excess cash in US telehealth startups.
These include a $2 million commitment with Wavemaker Three-sixty Health (Wavemaker 360), a healthcare focused-US venture capital firm.
My congratulations to GMA-7 and its chairman and CEO, Henry Gozon.