BizNews Asia, Tony Lopez’s phenomenal business weekly magazine, has named Ramon S. Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel Corp.,  Man of the Year for 2019. None of our major newspapers have awarded this title to anybody else, so RSA is the only Man of the Year in the Philippine media for 2019. This is a very thoughtful distinction, but I would rather describe RSA as “Filipino Patriot of the Year” for 2019. Although half-Chinese by heritage, he is more Filipino than anybody else,  no full-blooded Filipino can claim to be doing for the country as much as this one.

The honoree is a man of multiple virtues and achievements, none of which is easy to replicate. In less than 15 years, after he joined his friend and mentor SMC Chair Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco to run the corporation, he has re-engineered and transformed SMC from a food conglomerate into an industry leader in power generation, infrastructure, fuel and oil, premium cars, cement, and others. It is a stunning feat that has not only contributed to the economy’s long-term growth but also brought so much pride in the entrepreneurial capacity of the Filipino individual. As the country’s largest corporation, SMC posted P1.1 trillion in revenues last year.

Among Filipino and Filipino Chinese tycoons, the usual gold standard is the Forbes magazine listing of annual dollar billionaires; this is where you find the names of those whose most important distinction is that they have made and continue to make a lot of money. RSA invites a higher and far more fundamental measure of the value of his wealth creation: its actual impact on the long-term economic growth and overall advancement of the nation. It is a function of patriotism. Bloomberg Business Week, the international business magazine, clearly recognized this when it earlier listed RSA among the 50 most influential people in the world.

Included in this listing are Denmark’s, and the world’s, youngest prime minister Mette Frederiksen, a host of highly celebrated corporate heads from various parts of the world, and the 17-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who rebuked world leaders at the UN climate action summit in New York last year for their continued neglect of the environment, and who landed on the cover of TIME magazine in 2019 as its youngest Person of the Year and also the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. RSA is the only Filipino on that list.

The main reason for this is RSA’s P735.6-billion ($14.4 billion) New Manila International Airport project in Bulacan, which will not only put Manila head to head with all the modern tourist destinations in the world, but in Bloomberg’s words, will “remake” the Philippines.  It is a jaw-dropping game-changer. It is the biggest infrastructure project in the country, undertaken as an unsolicited private proposal by a single corporate entity, without any government subsidy or sovereign guarantee.  After years of systematic planning and preparation, RSA signed a 50-year concession agreement with Secretary Arthur Tugade of the Department of Transportation, and received the “notice to proceed” last September.

One Cabinet member had reportedly expressed some skepticism about the viability of the project, so Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez had to ask the Department of Justice to review all its premises and assumptions. RSA himself had to assure President Rodrigo Duterte that the big banks are lining up to support the project, and the biggest names in world business from Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the US have expressed serious interest to participate in it, if they are welcome.

The mega-project breaks ground this January. When completed in 2025, it will have four runways, three terminals, and eight taxiways to accommodate an expanded air traffic for 100 million passengers a year. With it will be 22 expressways covering north and south, east and west of Luzon, including a $31billion, 10-lane expressway on top of the present 23-kilometer Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). To ensure that the airport is completed on time, RSA has acquired the country’s largest cement maker for $2.1 billion.

I first heard of this project a few years ago from RSA himself. We were flying to Makasar, Indonesia with former President Fidel V. Ramos and former Speaker Jose de Venecia to an international  conference of Christian Democrats where I had been asked to speak on behalf of then Vice President Jejomar Binay. We were using his private plane with himself as our host on board. In the course of that pleasant plane ride, the subject of connecting the Philippines better to the rest of the world came up. This gave RSA a chance to talk about his project.  He spoke with such passion and enthusiasm that I could not recall having ever had a much more instructive and enjoyable plane ride.

Still I could not wrap my mind around the idea of a humongous airport stretching all the way from Bulacan to Sangley Point, and with support rail services extending from Pagudpud in Ilocos to Bicol. For me it was all a beautiful dream. I am a dreamer myself, and have always believed one should dream on until our dreams fall short. Thanks to the patriotic vision of this tireless Filipino this dream is about to be fulfilled.

US President Barack Obama once publicly complained that the airports in Washington, D.C. and New York had fallen behind their counterparts in Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Korea, Hong Kong, and Beijing, despite the fact that some of the US airports remained among the biggest and busiest in the world. These include Hartsfield Jackson international in Atlanta, Georgia, which received 104 million passengers in 2019; Los Angeles International, with 84.5 million; Chicago O’Hare, with 80 million; Dallas Fort Worth International, with 67 million; Denver International with 31.3 million; and San Francisco International with 27.7 million.

I was in the US last Christmas, and I went through Chicago O’Hare twice on my way to and from Iowa where the 2020 Democratic caucus will soon be held. I can say they haven’t found anyone like RSA to address Obama’s old complaint.