MANILA, January 7, 2003 (STAR)  Joanne Rae M. Ramirez  - At a time when most businessmen hang on to their foreign citizenship as they would a lifevest when a 747 hits heavy turbulence, Pedro Roxas sought–and gained –Filipino citizenship.

A scion of one of the most landed families in the Philippines, Roxas was born with the citizenship of his Spanish forbears. Now the chairman and CEO of the Central Azucarera Don Pedro, and a member of the board of about a dozen more firms, Roxas left the Ateneo de Manila in his youth to study high school in Madrid. To complete his Ivy League background, he went on to the Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where he obtained a degree in Business Administration.

Still single at the time, Roxas could have been forgiven for staying on in the US or Spain, but he returned to the Philippines in the early ’80s–just when a chosen few were thanking their lucky stars for having green cards.

Why did you come back, I asked Roxas, the son of the late Eduardo Roxas and his wife Pilar, now living in Spain. We are at his office in Makati, a stately executive suite softened by several pictures of his family. He wasn’t an only son, and he hadn’t yet met Gina (Tambunting), who would later become his wife.

"I had to make a living!" he smiles, looking very much like a younger George W. Bush. "But in the beginning, I wasn’t really too excited about coming back. After a while, I decided to go back to the US to get my masters. But then, I did not last long. I sort of had second thoughts. I decided to come back and sort of try to find my bearings."

He found his bearings in the land of his birth.

"After realizing that there was much that could be done here, much that could be done with our company, I realized there were a lot of opportunities to move forward," Roxas recalls. It was around this time that he applied for Filipino citizenship.

"I was born here. I like it here. I knew I could do something positive here," he points out.

* * *

Pedro Roxas, now a father of three, is also the president of Roxaco Land Corp., which along with Landco Pacific Corp., was behind the successful development of the Peninsula de Punta Fuego in Nasugbu, Batangas, the very exclusive seaside enclave of the rich and famous. It’s a status destination that doesn’t require a passport for jetsetters.

Following the success of Peninsula de Punta Fuego, Roxas and his partners are going full steam ahead for another seafront project, Terrazas de Punta Fuego.

Roxas and his brother Eduardo would often summer in Nasugbu when they were boys, roughing it up in a nipa hut by the beach. Punta Fuego is thus a coastline that Pedro knows like the back of his hand and has at times had to resist the temptation of being sentimental about the beach of his boyhood.

"But you gotta move on in life," he smiles again. Though the family fortune is basically sweetened by sugar (oh yes, literally), Roxas decided to venture into real estate when he realized profits from sugar could just as easily melt.

"The sugar business was very difficult during the Marcos years. And then even after the Marcos years. We had to look for another area, another leg to stand on. So we felt that since we had a substantial inventory of real estate which had potential for development, we decided to develop some of these properties," he recalls.

And thus was born one of the most successful real estate ventures in recent history, coming at a time when steel skeletons of other firms’ ventures gone awry were there to remind them of the huge risk they were taking.

"But I think we were very lucky at the time. Our timing was very good. We started the Punta Fuego project before 1997–the year of the Asian currency crisis. There was then a pent-up demand for a type of product like this, which is sort of a weekend type, high-end, close enough to Manila. There wasn’t anything quite like it then. Had we waited six or eight months, we probably would not have pushed through with it because that’s when the Asian flu hit. By the time the impact of the crisis was felt here, we were already about 50 percent sold. There was the momentum already, we just had to give it a big push. And the buyers saw that we were not holding back on the development. Despite the crisis, we were moving forward," Roxas says.

Roxas let his sentimental ties to the property work to his benefit rather than stymie the venture.

"You know, because the property has been with the family for over a century, because it brings back memories, you try to do a better job at moving it forward and developing it in a way that will not really change its character," he stresses.

And now, he and his partners’ successes are as visual as the seashells on the Punta Fuego shore. Roxas says he believes his family’s successes are to be shared by the people of Nasugbu.

"Our sugar mills employ about 850 people from Nasugbu. Indirectly, many more. Because we serve the needs of the farmers in terms of servicing their milling requirements, we do have a tremendous impact on what’s going on in the community. We’re very conscious of that. Punta Fuego employs over a hundred more. And then as the community is building up its population, the residents build houses, they obviously hire local help, a bantay here, a gardener there."

I ask him if the specter of terrorism–in view of what have taken place in other high-end resorts–haunts him.

Pedro Roxas isn’t spooked by that specter.

"I think the best deterrent to any security threat is really creating job opportunities. And as more and more of the local community realizes that their progress is linked with the progress of this development or future developments, they will be the first ones to protect and make sure that hey, why are we going to sacrifice this?"

And if the threat is not from the community?

"Well, that’s always the dilemma, and hopefully, it will be the local community itself that will be sort of be the frontline, that line of defense to security threats. For them, it’s ‘Things are moving forward here’!"

* * *

It’s been almost 20 years since Pedro Roxas returned to Manila and five presidents and three EDSA mass actions later, he is glad he put his money where his heart is.

"I’m just an ordinary businessman trying to survive in a very uncertain environment, but I guess we all have to do our share, to try and make things a little better. And undoubtedly if the country can move forward at a faster pace, those of us that are in a line of business will be able to work in an easier environment," says Roxas, who is also an active member of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, Children’s Hour, Habitat for Humanity, and the Galing Pilipino Movement, among others.

When he walks down the shore at Peninsula de Funta Fuego, and looks down the horizon from Terrazas, he takes a deep breath and sighs, "This is home."

And somehow, he knows why everything else has fallen into place.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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