Woman of Steel
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2014 - 12:00am

In a way, she is a super heroine.

A 48-year-old single mother, she heads one of the biggest construction companies in the Philippines.

And this she did by being brave enough to take on hard work, gender discrimination, personal crisis and every challenge under the sun to be the woman behind virtually all the buildings you see and foundations you walk on in the reclaimed area along Roxas Boulevard — from Smokey Mountain to PICC, to the PAGCOR Entertainment City in Parañaque.

She started with steel, and carved her reputation on steel.

* * *

Alice G. Eduardo has always wanted to be an engineer, one who wore hard hats in dusty construction sites and built things from scratch. But the porcelain-skinned and soft-spoken Alice, who comes from a very traditional Filipino family, was discouraged by her mother from what was thought of in the ‘80s as a man’s job.  

“Mom wanted me to become a doctor, or nurse,” says Alice, now an “AAA” (meaning with capitalization of at least P300 million) and large B (which qualifies her to bid for any billion-peso project) contractor, with almost all projects coming from the private sector.

As a compromise, Alice graduated with a degree in management. Dutifully, she helped out in the family business, which was in garments export. She and her sister Small (now Mrs. Philip Laude) exported infant’s and children’s dresses to the US, and was a Baby Dior and Disney supplier.

Then she managed a rice mill owned by her parents. The road to Alice’s wonderland opened up in 1995 when she was asked to supply steel to a construction project. For someone who always wanted to be in construction, it was like asking an aspiring pastry chef to provide cupcakes to a banquet! Alice gave her all.

“We were big in rice supply, but when Concrete Aggregates contracted me for its steel requirement, I delivered!” That was the start of the fulfillment of Alice’s childhood dream. And it was etched on steel.

* * *

Thus was born the construction company in 1995. With Alice’s unwavering commitment and business savvy as the firm’s president and CEO, Sta. Elena is now one of the leading construction firms in the country, providing foundation works, ports and harbor and horizontal construction. The firm now employs over 900 people, mostly males who are heads of their families. If you will include the employees of Sta. Elena’s subcontractors, the firm gives livelihood to over 1,500 people.

Alice’s first big project was the Bacnotan Steel Plant in Batangas, where she was responsible for pile driving (foundation construction). She followed this up with more big projects — the construction of a power plant in Sta. Rita, Batangas and then in San Lorenzo, Batangas.

In a way, you could say Alice didn’t start with baby steps in the construction business. She was a big league player right away, thanks to the track record she had with her first projects and the trust a leading bank gave her. In 1997, the Philippines was hit by the Asian financial crisis, leaving Alice with heavy equipment that she couldn’t immediately use because construction slowed down. Other firms decided to sell their equipment but Alice held on to hers. Her prudence was rewarded.

Thus, when tycoon and visionary Henry Sy decided to build his sprawling Mall of Asia and other big malls despite the crisis, Alice was one of the very few who had the equipment to undertake the construction of their foundation. Aside from doing the MOA, she was also tasked to build the foundation of the SM Pampanga, SM Bacolod, SM Seaside City Mall in Cebu, SM City Cabanatuan, SM Olongapo City, SM City Tarlac, Ecom One, Ecom Three, Sea Residences, Shell Residences, Shore Residences and the SM Bay Arena at the MOA complex. When opportunity knocked, Alice Eduardo was ready!

It wasn’t long before the MOA’s neighbors and prospective investors in the reclaimed area took notice of Sta. Elena.

“They probably said, ‘This girl can deliver!’ I had a track record of completing my projects ahead of schedule, without compromising quality,” says Alice. Soon, she was doing the pile-driving works and pre-casting of Solaire Manila, Belle Grande Casino and Resort and the Manila Bay Resort at the Entertainment City in Parañaque. In fact, people quip that Alice has actually built 80 percent of the Entertainment City’s foundation!

* * *

For Alice, who recently won the bid over international firms to construct the First Gen-Siemens San Gabriel Power Plant in Batangas, the foundation of her success isn’t only steel.

“It is hard work and passion for what I am doing, and being honorable,” she shares. The Siemens project she is especially proud of, because she outbidded big international construction firms from all over the world. According to Alice, it is the first time a Filipino contractor is doing a power plant for Siemens. No less than President Aquino attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for the power plant.

First Gen said the 414-megawatt (MW) San Gabriel power plant in Sta. Rita, Batangas City, would cost $600 million.

The plant will be built next to First Gen’s 1,000-MW Sta. Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo natural gas plants. The Lopez-controlled firm earlier signed up Germany’s Siemens AG to supply the equipment and to construct the power facility. And Siemens signed up Sta. Elena, which will be doing not only the plant’s piling (foundation) works, but also its main civil works and marine works!  

No small feat for any man — or woman!

“I really love what I’m doing!” exclaims this mother of three, a woman of steel with a marshmallow heart. Her sister Small Laude and friend Mons Romulo describe her as kind “to a fault.” (To this compliment, Alice simply says, “If I can save a soul and make people happy, I feel super happy.”)

“When I am happy, I go to the construction site. When I need to be recharged, I go to the construction site. When I am sad, I also go to the construction site and then I feel good again,” Alice smiles. Wearing a hardhat and safety boots amidst the steel bars and the concrete piles in a dusty job site is like wearing her favorite designer clothes on the red carpet. It’s a dream come true for her.

Alice is in the wonderland she’s always dreamed of. (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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