On Jan. 14, 2021, at the 67th birth anniversary of Ramon S. Ang, President Duterte did something extraordinary.  He motored to the South Expressway in Manila, checked the status of the 19-km (Buendia-Balintawak) segment of San Miguel’s 38-km Skyway 3, and then proceeded to the stage where inauguration ceremonies were to be held.

After Ramon Ang’s brief welcome remarks, Duterte stood up, approached his lectern, and just before ending his speech, he urged the audience to join him in a spirited singing of a happy birthday song for the vice chairman and president of San Miguel Corp.

Duterte praised the ordinary Filipino laborer who helped build San Miguel’s showcase expressway, “for his toil and sweat in making all of this possible. They may not be earning much pero ang trabaho pinakita nila will last for generations. [applause] So kung sino man ngayon ang mga trabahante dito, tanggapin po ninyo ang mainit kong pagbati.”

Then, he said he “would like to specially greet Mr. Ramon Ang” and of course, also Manila North Exressways’ Manuel V. Pangilinan of the PLDT Group “for all of these grand infrastructures without compare.”  He likewise thanked those who financed and “gave us a very magnificent Skyway.” 

Ang built the Skyway 3 and Pangilinan agreed to connect it to his North Expressway, allowing for a seamless drive from Alabang, then NAIA to Clark Airport in Pampanga, a distance of 106 kms.

Duterte recalled his marching order to his cabinet at their first meeting: “Just make the life of the Filipino comfortable.”

To achieve that, the President launched his unprecedented Build, Build, Build, with spending exceeding P800 billion a year and hitting 5% of the value of the economy or GDP. 

Initially, only 56 projects were listed under BBB.  But the projects hit snags and many had little, if any, supporting project studies, they ran the risk of not being begun at all nor inaugurated during Duterte’s six years in office. 

Duterte’s bright boys thought of expanding the BBB portfolio to include road projects being undertaken by the private sector, with or without government financing or participation.  When it comes to Duterte’s infra, failure is not an option. 

Thus, many major SMC infra projects became part of the government’s BBB portfolio.  The government BBB projects now number 156.   To his credit, Duterte cut red tape for infra projects.  He told the judges not to issue TROs.  He told corrupt contractors to go home or die. “Do not hinder the progress of the country,” he declared.  He told Public Works Secretary Mark Villar to rid his department of the corrupt thru a total revamp.

Publicly listed San Miguel, of course, is the best private company in the infra business.  Before Ang came to San Miguel in 1989, as the one-man think tank of Chair Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr., infra was zero business for the beer, beverages, food and packaging products conglomerate.  Taking over in 1999 as its chief operating officer, RSA (his initials) expanded San Miguel’s business beyond anyone’s dream to include petroleum refining and marketing, power generation, and infra.  These three now contribute 65% of total sales.

Today, infra is a fast growing business and a money spinner.  With 55% share of the nation’s tollways, SMC’s infra generated P23 billion in revenues and P11 billion in profits in 2019 alone.  That is 2% of total SMC sales of P1.02 trillion and 10% of total operating profits of P111 billion. 

The pandemic proved that infra is well, pandemic-proof in the long run.  In the first nine months of 2020, there was a hiccup. Infra net sales fell 42% to P10.27 billion while operating profits declined 76% to P2.14 billion. 

At RSA’s 67th birthday which coincided with the inauguration of his Skyway 3, Duterte was justifiably proud and grateful.  “I am honored to join all of you today as we officially open Stage 3 of the Metro Manila Skyway Project,” he said.

“For many years, our people have greatly suffered from the perennial problem of road congestion in the National Capital Region,” the President recalled. With the completion of all of Ang’s Skyways, he said, the suffering of the people will be cut by a third, “it will cut the inconvenience and it will make you comfortable.”

“Connecting with Skyway Stages 1 and 2, we now have a continuous 35-kilometer elevated expressway that directly connects Alabang to Balintawak. This, beyond doubt, will significantly contribute to the efficient movement of goods and people from north to south, and within Manila,” Duterte stressed.

He credited his BBB. “The successful completion of the Skyway is a testament to the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of our Build, Build, Build Program.”

The President added: “It (Skyway) attests to the endless possibilities that we can accomplish through the dynamic partnership between the government and the private sector.  To the Filipino people, let me assure you that this administration will continue to pursue our Build, Build, Build program guided by the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability.”

He thanked the builders (Ang) of Skyway 3: “To our private sector partners CITRA and San Miguel, let me thank you for your trust in this administration,” he said.

“Your investment has finally paid off, and the Skyway shall serve as an enduring edifice of the legacy that we will leave behind for future generations of Filipinos.”

“With the trust and help of the private sector and of the Filipino people, I am confident that we can build the foundations of an inclusive, robust and prosperous nation that we can proudly leave behind to our children.”

“Before I end my speech, I would like to take a moment to greet my dear friend Ramon S. Ang a happy birthday. Birthday niya ngayon.” [sings Happy Birthday]. 

“On behalf of the Filipino people, I thank you for your invaluable contributions to the government’s efforts to forge a thriving and progressive society,” the President enthused.

“Your initiatives in addressing the challenges brought by COVID-19 during the early stages of the pandemic speak well of your genuine desire to help our people. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“It is my hope that your deep sense of patriotism and social responsibility will serve as an inspiration to other captains of industry to actively participate in our shared task of nation-building.”

Skyway Stage 3 is the longest elevated expressway in the country. 

An industry first, the toll road has three double-decker sections to maximize use of precious space in the busiest parts of the city.

SMC had to fund and rebuild three major bridges the San Juan Bridge (40 meters), Concordia Bridge (24 meters), and Sevilla Bridge (56.76 meters). Rivers in these areas were dredged and cleaned.

With the Skyway Stage 3, travel time from Alabang to the North Luzon Expressway is now just a 30-minute breeze through a high-quality, anti-slip asphalt road, from the usual three hours in traffic along EDSA.

— Tony Lopez