Thursday, January 12, 2012

What, me worry? Bobby Ongpin acquires another Cessna Grand Caravan. (Manila, Philippines)

He may be getting skewered in the Senate and the media, but Marcos-era finance minister Roberto Ongpin is not skipping a beat despite the televised inquisition in his push to build a P3-billion paradise in pristine Balesin island.

According to the grapevine, Ongpin has just acquired a second Cessna Grand Caravan (list price: $2 million) to double his fledgling fleet for the 25-minute ferry service from Manila to the 424-hectare island, nearly half the size of Boracay, off the coast of Real, Quezon.

His private construction army has already finished a 1.5-kilometer, all-weather runway for under P70 million - you read it right, under P70 million - an incredibly low amount that should make DPWH engineers either squirm in shame or green with envy.

Moreover, the runway has water collection channels on both sides that lead to an impounding and filtration dam, making the whole island not only self-sufficient in water and power but also a DENR conservation model.

Ongpin, who is 75 this year, was in his usual mercurial self Saturday as he subjected his key aides to a "maelstrom" (as Balesin project director Marco Diaz put it to Ongpin neighbor and prospective member Raffy Rufino) over construction delays.

Ongpin's listed company Alphaland is rushing 180 villas in six (Indonesian, Italian, Greek, French, Thai and Philippine-) themed villages in time for the 2013 opening of the Balesin Island Club. To achieve that, Alphaland not only distributed the work among three architects - Conrad Onglao, Jorge Yulo and Carmelo Casas - but also deployed three roll-on, roll-off ships and barges to haul cement and steel from Quezon.

Alphaland spokesman Michelle Ongpin said about 2,200 shares out of the 5,000 membership club have already been sold in Hong Kong, mainly to gweilos seeking the nearest tropical get-away from the Chinese colony.

Of the 5,000, only 400 are allotted to locals under a two-tiered share pricing: P3 million for foreigners, P2 million for locals. In any case, each member is entitled to 14 free nights stay a year in any of the villas; any extra night would cost $200, good for four occupants.

Association dues start in 2013 at P5,000 a month, P1,000 of which is consumable. Round-trip air fare, taking off from the club's private hangar beside the Manila Domestic Airport, costs P3,000 a member, P4,000 for every guest. A speedboat from the club's pier in Real is also available.

Ongpin, the spokesman and incidentally chairman's daughter, said the club is working on a tie-up with the Philippine Airlines for charter flights out of Hong Kong, with Balesin, already declared a free port, having its own customs and immigration personnel.

That putative alliance with PAL could turn out to be much stronger. If the grapevine is to be believed, the elder Ongpin and his Ashmore Group are the silent partners of San Miguel's Ramon Ang in the latter's plan to acquire the financially-handicapped airline from taipan Lucio Tan.

But that, as they say, is another story.

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