San Miguel Corp.'s TPlex tollgates

PH’s largest corporation has shelled out over P13B to prep Pinoys for ‘new normal’

Since the CoViD-19 pandemic struck in March, San Miguel Corp, the country’s largest corporation, has led the private sector to help the Philippines deal with the crisis, spending over P13 billion on various efforts to help boost government response, provide life-saving medical equipment and supplies to front liners, and donate food and disinfectants to disadvantaged communities.

And in the foreseeable future, SMC has said it commits to further providing support in this “new normal”. SMC president Ramon S. Ang said that contributions towards the recovery of the economy, which include initiatives to boost public health capacity and workplace health safety; support the agriculture sector and boost infrastructure, are among SMC’s priorities in the coming months.

SMC recently announced its latest and ongoing projects.

Disaster- and CoViD-proof resettlement

A total of 86 families relocated from high-risk coastal areas to a new, disaster-resilient and sustainable housing development built for them by San Miguel Corp (SMC) are getting more than just a new start in life: They have also remained CoViD-19 free—in large part due to the measures taken by SMC to make sure they are safe amid the pandemic.

The development, called the San Miguel-Christian Gayeta Homes, which sits on a 5.4-hectare area in Sitio Curba, Barangay Castanas in Sariaya, has benefited from the full assistance of SMC throughout the pandemic. It was built in partnership with the local government.

Layout of SMC Gayeta Homes

SMC had put in place strict health and safety protocols, including the installation of handwashing stations, equipping guards with thermal scanners, and mandating the wearing of face masks.

It also provided regular food supplies to residents to reduce their need to go to the market and risk exposure to the virus.

SMC is building a total of 450 homes—all titled properties—for relocatees. The company, which is building an integrated agro-industrial zone with port facilities in the coastal area—has already completed 300 units, with the remaining 150 currently under construction.

It started distributing the house-and-lot packages—with corresponding land titles—for free to qualified relocatees last year.

Each residence at the San Miguel-Gayeta Homes has a lot area of 54 sqm, with built homes that can fit a bedroom, toilet and bathroom, kitchen, and dining area.

All houses are constructed using “Green Tough” (GT) panels, designed and manufactured by Fadz Design and Construction Inc, to be far better than conventional concrete and hollow-block houses.

SMC workers help in moving to new houses

The panels are termite-proof, sound- and heat- insulated, wind-proof, earthquake-proof and environment-friendly.

SMC president Ramon S. Ang said: “This village is our way of ensuring that relocatees from the coastal area will have good homes that they can pass on to their children. San Miguel has had a lot of experience building large housing communities which we’ve donated for disaster victims all over the country. We have used that experience to try to develop a comfortable, sustainable, and disaster-resilient village here—especially since the residents are coming from a danger zone.”

The community, which was built following Housing Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) standards, has its own overhead water tank with 136,000-liter capacity, a dedicated sewage treatment plant made of natural reed beds, a multi-purpose hall, park, daycare center, and clinic.

The new community is within easy reach of schools, local government centers, services, and business opportunities.

SMC has also taken the extra step to give adult residents who did not finish high school a chance to do so, and become entrepreneurs through the government’s Alternative Learning System (ALS). Graduates are qualified to take courses at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) after finishing their secondary education.

SMC has recently partnered with the Tesda-Quezon Provincial Office and Quezon National Agricultural School and Fadz Construction Inc for the establishment of a skills and livelihood training center inside the village.

Training programs to be conducted are about food and beverage services, organic farming, driving, electrical installation and maintenance, shielded metal arc welding, and housekeeping.

3rd ‘Better World’ facility for farmers

The first was a learning and feeding center and food bank in one of Manila’s poorest districts. The second, a CoViD-19 testing lab, aimed at boosting the country’s testing capacity during the pandemic. Now, SMC has eyes set on its third “Better World” sustainability project—a hub and marketplace for fresh produce from farmers from all over Luzon, and made available to consumers and resellers at farmgate prices.

Dubbed “Better World UP”, the project is a strategic partnership with Rural Rising Ph, a social enterprise established by Ace Estrada, dedicated to harnessing the potential of the countryside and fostering rural prosperity through agri-entrepreneurship.

To be housed in a property owned by SMC in UP Village, Diliman, Quezon City, Better World UP, is San Miguel’s latest initiative aimed at helping the agricultural sector.

Ang said: “The lockdown and restrictions in mobility have been especially hard on farmers. They’re unable to market their produce. In some provinces, they’ve been forced to throw away a season’s harvest of vegetables simply because they can’t get their goods to market or because restaurants have closed. The curbed demand has caused prices to plummet.”

Ang added: “Together with Rural Rising Ph, we hope to further boost the incomes of farmers, particularly by aggregating their fresh produce and selling directly to customers here in Metro Manila.”

Ang said that while Better World UP will initially function as a ready marketplace for vegetables and fruits, Rural Rising Ph and the San Miguel Foundation will develop programs to teach farming skills and cottage industries to both farmers and consumers.

Estrada says that over time the property can be used as a food distribution center, where excess produce will be donated to urban poor communities.  “You have all this waste—food being thrown or given away by the truckload or fed to animals for lack of buyers. In towns worst-hit by CoViD-19 restrictions, you can smell tomatoes rotting in the ravines before you see the helplessness of it all. On the other hand, you have the urban poor of Metro Manila with little or no access to food. With this partnership with SMC, we are able to move produce that would otherwise go to waste, pay farmers the right price, and bring it to where it is most needed, where it could do the most good.”

During the two-month lockdown, when farm produce could not be transported to major markets, SMC committed to buy more raw materials for food production from local farmers. This included 78 million kilos of corn from farmer cooperatives all over Luzon.

In the same period, Rural Rising Ph moved more than 100 tons of produce from the distressed farmers of the Cordilleras, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and La Union.

SMC’s Better World initiatives, which brings to life the company’s corporate slogan, “Your World Made Better”, is geared towards addressing various social issues impacting different segments of society. It does so by partnering with non-profit groups like Rural Rising Ph who are then given access to SMC’s vast resources and networks, to amplify their efforts.

The first initiative, Better World Tondo, a learning and feeding center that also functions as a food bank, aims to address issues of hunger and food waste, and help the poorest districts in Tondo, Manila.

Opened by Ang—himself a Tondo native—in September 2019, it became one of the hubs for SMC’s food relief efforts during the quarantine. To date, the company’s food donations have reached P511.1 million, the largest in Philippine history.

Meanwhile, before the end of June 2020, SMC operationalized Better World Edsa, a CoViD-19 testing center set up primarily to test some 70,000 employees and extended workforce in SMC’s nationwide network, and boost the country’s overall testing capacity.

TPLex finally completed

SMC and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has just formally opened the final section of the 89.21-km Tarlac Pangasinan La Union Expressway (TPLex), completing the four-lane toll road project that will hasten travel to and from Northern Luzon provinces, and help significantly boost economic activity in the region.

The opening of the final 11-km segment of TPLex, which will further reduce travel time from Tarlac to Rosario to just one hour from three-and-a-half hours, and Metro Manila-to-Baguio from six hours to just three-and-a-half hours, was led by Ang and the DPWH.

“In the face of a global pandemic that has also greatly affected our economy and the livelihoods of many Filipinos, we at SMC remain committed to continuing our investments in growth-generating and job-creating projects that will help build the resilience of our people,” said Ang. SMC is the parent company of SMC Infrastructure which built and operates TPLex.

“The economy ground to a halt because of the pandemic, and among the most affected were our farmers as well as small businesses such as restaurants, hotels, stores, that also rely on tourism. By not scaling back on investments in infrastructure, we will be able to create more jobs, keep the flow of goods and services moving, and pave the way for more local tourism for the long-term,” he added.

In total, TPLex now has 10 interchanges and 11 toll plazas, namely: Tarlac City, Victoria, Pura, Ramos, Anao, in Tarlac; Carmen, Urdaneta, Binalonan, Pozorrubio, Sison in Pangasinan, and Rosario, La Union. The Sison, Pangasinan exit was added to the original alignment to help locals, and is currently being completed.

Earlier, SMC also received original proponent status for its proposal to extend TPLex from Rosario, La Union to San Juan, La Union, whose beaches have become a hot spot for local tourism. The proposed four-lane extension project will cover some 59 km.

“Our next goal now is to extend TPLex all the way to San Juan. We look forward to the continued support of our national and local governments for this project, which will bring even more growth to the region,” Ang said.

Aside from the Pozzurubio-Rosario TPLex section, the completion of a new unit of Masinloc Power Plant, Skyway 3, Skyway Extension, Skyway 4, and MRT-7 are also in the pipeline.

SMC has also said it is pushing through with its plan to build the P735-billion Manila International Airport (MIA) project in Bulakan, Bulacan.

The massive development is expected to solve perennial congestion problems at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, increase the country’s competitiveness as a tourist and investment destination, and produce over a million direct and indirect jobs throughout Bulacan, neighboring Luzon provinces, and nationwide.