From Tondo boy to Forbes philanthropist

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Fresh from his executive medical check-up, San Miguel’s Ramon S. Ang told his audience of ageing newspaper columnists that health is wealth. How did his check-up go? The 69-year-old taipan said he got a clean bill of health, as he jumped up and down a number of times to show his agility.

But his doctor nicked his colon in the process of doing his colonoscopy. So, he is on a cocktail of antibiotics to prevent infections. That’s his excuse for his weight gain. He has to eat heartily before orally taking those antibiotic tablets and capsules.

He then asked this group of senior citizens if we had our check-ups and if we had taken a blood test to determine the onset of pancreatic cancer. The deadly disease has apparently taken a number of his friends recently and he said there is now a marker that will show in a blood test if someone is in danger of it or already has it. He offered to have all of us tested, giving his assistant orders to send medical technicians to our homes to collect blood samples.

Then he turned philosophical. He said that at this stage of his life, he is committed to just doing what he can to improve the lives of fellow Filipinos. Now worth an estimated $3.4 billion, according to Forbes, RSA said it makes no sense to hoard money because you can’t take it with you when you die.

Sure… easy for this dollar billionaire to pooh pooh the very human nature to want to be stinking rich. But he apparently means what he is saying, judging from how he is dispensing money from his own pockets, as well as from San Miguel’s various charitable foundations.

Some eyebrows were likely raised when Forbes Asia named him as the sole Filipino philanthropist in a group of 15 top philanthropists in the region. There are other old rich and new rich local taipans who probably expected to be on the list. But the outcast from the “Good Ol’ Boys Club” of Makati business big shots, caught the attention of Forbes Asia instead.

Indeed, RSA said he was surprised when he was told. He was even apprehensive that the magazine may want him to buy advertising in exchange for the honor. Forbes didn’t ask for anything. It’s legit.

I was not surprised with the Forbes Asia recognition. RSA had always been true to his humble Tondo roots, his guide in deploying his and San Miguel’s resources.

Beyond philanthropy, RSA practices the concept of inclusive business. He makes the community part of the business value chain, particularly of San Miguel’s food companies. A recent example is his mega poultry project that will supply a large part of our country’s poultry requirements and reduce imports.

The modern poultry farms are located in areas where corn and other chicken feed ingredients are grown. He has committed to buy all the produce, guaranteeing a ready market, which had been a perennial problem of farmers. Eventually, he said, he will organize cooperatives and turn over management to the locals.

Then there are the river dredging projects on which he has spent billions. He sees dredging as helping the communities along the rivers that flood at the slightest rains. This is DPWH’s responsibility, but since nothing has happened, RSA stepped up to make up for DPWH’s failure.

The Tondo Boy is familiar with the dire poverty in Tondo, so he established the first of four Better World Community Centers there. The Tondo center feeds people six days a week. The people who cook and help feed are also volunteers from Tondo. During the pandemic, it was heaven sent for the hungry folks who lost their livelihoods.

Other centers are: Better World Cubao (focused on women’s health), Better World Diliman (a farmers’ market) and the most recent is Better World Smokey Mountain, which is a learning facility. RSA also pledged P500 million to the City of Manila to build more schools as he inaugurated a 39-classroom school in Better World Smokey Mountain, one of the city’s poorest areas.

“I strongly believe that empowering a wide range of Filipinos with education and skills is key to unlocking the country’s potential, and this includes not only the youth, but also adults in less privileged areas who seek better jobs or want to start their own businesses,” Ang said.

Forbes Asia noted that since 2020, Ang through his RSA Foundation has personally contributed over P150 million to scholarship grants and medical aid. Separately, SMC’s San Miguel Foundation spent over P1 billion to build schools in the Metro Manila region, while donating P14.8 billion to support relief measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and earmarking another P3 billion to help clean up the city’s rivers.

But RSA expressed irritation at criticisms of his projects. So, he is dropping the Pasig River Expressway proposal. He said he only wanted to help make commuting from the eastern part of Metro Manila to the western part easier.

I asked why he was bidding for NAIA’s rehabilitation when he was building the Bulacan airport. He said to keep the other bidders honest. He said he would bid strongly and help get the government as much from the deal as it can. Remember NAIAX? They mocked him for supposedly overbidding. But it is doing so well he plans to add more lanes.

What happens if he wins, since his Bulacan airport will open in three years? He will turn over NAIA back to the government so they can package it as a property play and earn trillions of pesos for the National Treasury. NAIA is bigger than BGC.

RSA keeps on saying he is looking forward to retiring, but guys like him never really retire. He said he would run for barangay captain in his barangay in Tondo to cap his career.

Love of country. Community spirit. A belief that money should not be hoarded, but used to produce benefits for the people. That’s the Tondo Boy turned Forbes Top Philanthropist. He is grateful to rise from humble beginning and is committed to give back.


Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X or Twitter @boochanco


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