FIRST-TERM Mayor Vergel Meneses, otherwise known as the Philippine Basketball Association’s “Aerial Voyager”, can’t help but be hopeful about the future of his hometown, Bulakan, Bulacan, despite the present challenges of COVID-19. The Philippines’ largest and most modern international gateway—the new Manila International Airport project of San Miguel Corporation—will break ground there, soon.
“Malaki talaga ang maitutulong. There will be more opportunities in terms of jobs and employment, increase of revenues from businesses, and real property will appreciate in value as well,” said the 51-year old Meneses, referring to benefits of the upcoming project, seen to solve the decades-old congestion problems Filipinos experience in and around the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
San Miguel Corporation’s airport project, set to start construction in October, will hold its own against the best airports around the world. It will have four parallel runways and a provision for two more, a world-class terminal, supported by a seamless transport system, among other features.
Also included in the massive project are measures to address flooding in the whole of Bulacan.
Such a project may seem overwhelming for a small town. But Meneses thinks about his constituents’ welfare for the long-term.
“Definitely yes, may ilang mga nag-alala. Pero nang napaliwagan sila at nakita ang benepisyo na ibibigay sa pagtatayo ng airport sa bayan ng Bulacan ay naging excited sila,” he said.
Once completed, the airport project can accommodate up to 100 million passengers yearly, generate over a million direct and indirect jobs, give rise to many small industries in Bulacan, and significantly boost tourism, leading to more jobs across all industries.
The 1995 PBA MVP knows too from experience what kind of partner San Miguel Corporation is. He has seen for himself how San Miguel treats its employees and communities as a Barangay Ginebra player from 1999 to 2002.
Even today, in the midst of the pandemic, Meneses and Bulakan can feel SMC’s trademark malasakit.
“Opo naman. Pinapakita ng SMC ang malasakit nila sa mga mamayan ng Bulakan lalo na nitong pandemic. Ipinadama nila ang malasakit at pag alaga sa tao, lalo na si Boss RSA (Ramon S. Ang),” he related.
Just recently, SMC provided financial assistance to fishpond workers who used to live in the coastal zones so they can rebuild their lives within Bulacan and nearby provinces. The company will also provide skills training to coastal settlers through the Technical Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
With a lot to look forward to in the near future, Meneses is focused today on attending to his constituents, many of whom are affected by the pandemic as well as the economic downturn due to the quarantine imposed to limit the transmission of the disease.
“Katulad ng nararanasan ng marami sa ating kababayan, kami po ay apektado rin. Ang pamahalaang bayan ng Bulakan ay patuloy na nakaalalay ngayon sa pangangailangan ng aming mga mamamayan,” Meneses said.
In handling this big responsibility in the midst of a health crisis, Meneses says he has his years of experience as player and coach to thank draw strength from.
“Yung leadership at discipline sa basketball nadala ko dito. Hands-on kasi ako sa pamamalakad at pagdesisyon. I have to be firm in whatever decision I make and make sure that it is for the betterment of my constituents,” he said.
While he is wearing the hat of a public servant, he can’t help but think about the PBA and NCAA players as he empathizes with them.
“Honestly, meron talagang pangamba sa isip na baka mahawa at hindi makakapag-concentrate sa training. But self-conditioning and discipline lang para pag dumating ang araw na okay na lahat, ay ready na sila at madali sila makapag adjust,” he said.
These are words of wisdom coming from the then 18-year-old player from Jose Rizal University who beat the likes of Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa, Bong Alvarez and Nelson Asaytono in the 1987 Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) slam dunk contest, en route to a stellar 14-year career studded by three championships and countless accolades—including membership in the Philippine Centennial Team.
This same optimism that carried him through many career highs, is the same one he’s feeling now for his town, which is about to take flight.