Ramon Ang on vintage cars, airports and Philippine Airlines

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Tycoon Ramon “RSA” Ang snakes through the labyrinthine crowd and hurriedly slips inside a waiting white van that will bring him to a helipad inside Manila North Harbor.

He is in the Bronx-like district of Tondo in Manila’s belly where he led the opening of San Miguel Corp.’s learning facility. He needs to rush to Clark for the signing of the Bulacan Airport agreement.

The van takes him to his chopper, a waiting H130 helicopter. Its engine is roaring to life and the rotor blades are spinning with that signature ear-thumping swishing sound. RSA takes to the skies. 

A day with RSA

How do I know all these? I tagged along with him for almost one full day. 

A day isn’t enough to get to know the man who leads mammoth conglomerate SMC, but one will surely get vignettes of the kind of tycoon that he is. And that’s what I got.

We flew one morning from Tondo to Clark, drove to his garage of vintage cars, then flew back to SMC’s office in Ortigas in the afternoon. 

RSA is as much a big boss as he is a disarming folk hero. “Batang Tondo ako!” he says with pride. Everyone wants a minute of his time, either for a favor, a selfie or a chat, and he gives it – whether you’re a Bulacan resident squeezing an interview, a street vendor peddling corn, or his auto mechanic asking permission to go on vacation leave.

In between the wild chopper rides, RSA and I talked about many things – from collecting prized vintage cars to helping the poor. 

“You should always try to help those in need. What is important is the intention,” he tells me.

We also talked about airpoarts and airlines.

Would he buy back Philippine Airlines again?

I asked him if he would consider buying back Philippine Airlines, which is now in transition. Its longtime president Jaime Bautista retired in July.

RSA, a licensed pilot, recalled the time he was at the helm of PAL. The airline made money and performed well, he says.

“Maganda ang performance and on time. And yung mga problema, naayos ko. Nagkaroon ng landing slot sa Haneda.”

Under his watch, PAL successfully reopened flights to London after 15 long years.

And so I asked again, would he consider buying it back? RSA shakes his head.

“Ever?” I press on. 

Owning an airline

RSA says that in the Philippines, an airline is just as good as the airports. But if one has a new gateway with enough landing slots, it would be viable to own an airline, he says.

This means that with SMC’s New Manila International Airport in Bulacan, owning an airline may be the next big thing for RSA.

“Is that your plan, or just a dream?” I ask. 

“Both!” he says. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens soon. Would he join his friend and fellow sports patron Mikee Romero -- himself an astute businessman – in acquiring majority ownership of AirAsia Philippines?

Rep. Mikee told me a few weeks back there are no other investors with him in his bid for AirAsia. 

Only time will tell what RSA’s dream airline will be, if he indeed acquires one.

New Manila International Airport

But what’s certain, he says, is that many regional airlines are eagerly waiting for the opening of the Bulacan airport.

RSA is beaming with excitement. I am in awe of his energy and passion for what he does. 

The new airport will be a game changer and is just a short distance from Manila, he says.

“Clark is so far, even by chopper 25 minutes. Bulacan only eight minutes.”

Vintage cars

After the Clark event and a hearty meal in a Kapampangan restaurant, we were ready to fly back to Manila. Or so I thought. 

I was pleasantly surprised when we took a side trip to his garage of vintage cars somewhere in central Luzon.

Outside, the facility looked just like another giant warehouse. 

But once inside, you slip into a somnambulant spell and you wake up in another world, another time. Perhaps this is the 1920s in the French Riviera in the garage of some aristocrat’s sprawling mansion.

Welcome to this Concours d’Elegance of sorts, a vintage car world filled with the finest queens – strong, sleek and sexy. 

Cadillac, Bentley, Mustang, Thunderbird – you name it, it’s here. There’s a cabriolet, a club coupe, a coupe de ville and what-have-you. Yellow ochre, baby pink and classic blue  – a spectacle of colors, too.

I was blown away and as I watched RSA inspect his cars, I realized that in this sprawling warehouse, he is home. It’s a wonderland of sorts. He went from one car to another, proudly sharing with me each one’s unique beauty.

RSA knows cars like the back of his hand. He started when he was a teenager, fixing Japanese auto engines and collecting cars.

With his busy schedule now, does he have time to take his hundreds of cars for a spin?

Yes, he says. And I suddenly realized this must be where he gets his energy to run a giant conglomerate. Perhaps, driving these sexy, shiny and sleek road queens gives him that kind of high -- the kind that seeps through your veins, lets you slip into a thin membrane in this chaotic universe and lets you take on the world. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com 

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