From cigarettes to real estate to UP Maroons
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - June 7, 2018 - 12:00am

The guards opened the thick steel gates and instructed me to drive straight until the end of the road, then turn left at the corner and make another left when I see a basketball court.

Red lanterns hung high in various corners, pigeons flocked from one roof to another, and smoke from a tall rusty chimney wafted in the air.

 It’s a sprawling, maze-like compound with white apartment type structures, and a huge factory-like building just near the entrance.

I almost didn’t see the basketball court. What caught my eye was a fleet of shiny cars and sports utility vehicles, including a sleek black Rolls Royce.

A man and a woman welcomed me and led me to a house, and then to an elevator all the way to the third floor.

 Here, in a cozy, closed-door den that looked like a mini version of a mountain lodge, I found Caesar Wongchuking sitting comfortably like a kingpin. It’s a nice den with an imposing view of the former Sta. Ana race track, a quaint brick wall and a Tamiya-like collection of warships. There’s a cellar, too, and a door made of cork leading to a another room.

Caesar is the youngest son of the late Wong Chu King, founder of La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos Inc., which later became Mighty Corp.

Mighty, as we all know by now, was the beleaguered cigarette company which Japan Tobacco Inc. acquired last year for a whopping P46.8 billion.

Caesar showed me around the La Campana compound, a stone’s throw away from Ayala’s Circuit Makati.

From the veranda, one can see the former race track, once an iconic landmark between the borders of Makati and Manila. Caesar said that as a child he grew up watching the horse races.

Former factory

It’s a huge compound – 1.5 hectares – with residential units and a sprawling building that used to be the factory of La Campana.

His father, a migrant from Fujian, China, bought the property from Andres Soriano, whose family used to own huge tracts of land in Makati.

Today, the factory no longer operates, but the compound is very much busy – both a home – for Caesar, his brother Alex, their families, and their mother – and an office for the family’s many other businesses.

Industrial leasing

I asked him what keeps him busy now, aside from just sitting comfortably in this sprawling billionaire’s lair.

Caesar laughed and shrugged off my ribbing.

Turning serious, he shared with me that the company plans to get into real estate.

 Like the La Campana compound, his father had accumulated huge parcels of land around the country which the family plans to develop for industrial leasing.

 The family would start by developing an initial 50 hectares, which are in various parts of the country.

 It’s a growing industry now, Caesar observed.

 I agreed. I told him that many property developers are turning to industrial leasing as another growth area amid the rapid demand from the fast-growing logistics sector in the country.

 Ayala Land, DoubleDragon, and Vista Land are only some of the companies that are now venturing into industrial leasing. 

Caesar said the real estate company would likely be under Wongchuking Holdings and would not carry the Mighty brand. 

As to when this would happen, he said it could likely be after next year, or after their transition arrangement with JTI ends.

Mighty Sports Apparel for UP Fighting Maroons

Aside from the family’s venture into real estate, Caesar is equally excited about another development.

He proudly shared with me the news that Mighty Sports Apparel will be the official outfitter of the UP Fighting Maroons for this season of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Wow! I said. I told him they should support the whole basketball team and not just the uniform so we could bag the championship again.

As a UP alumna, I long to see the day when the team becomes a champion again. Caesar is not an alumni, but he and UP Coach Bo Perasol are good friends. The family is glad to help, he said.

Will Mighty’s sports apparel be the team’s lucky charm this time? We’ll have to wait and see.

Life after Mighty

This September, the Wongchuking family will mark the first anniversary of the sale of Mighty to JTI. Caesar can’t help but still wax sentimental over the fact that they had to give up the family business, an empire his father built.

But at the same time, he is excited about the things to come. When he is not busy planning for the family’s new ventures, he also spends time in his vegetable farm in Indang, Cavite. Or he travels abroad with his family. He and his wife will travel to France soon to see a race and to celebrate their anniversary.

Around this time a year ago, it was quite a tumultuous time for the family.

Almost a year and lots and lots of billions after, life is starkly different now for the Wongchukings.

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

CAESAR WONGCHUKING MIGHTY CORP. UP FIGHTING MAROONS
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