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September 2013

                                                           September 30, 2013


To Members and Friends:

Once again, it is the end of the month and I owe you my update.


50 Shades of Tessa

The highlight at Balesin for the month of September was the fabulous birthday bash of the fabulous Sea Princess a.k.a. Tessa Prieto Valdes, aptly called “50 Shades of Tessa.”  While I was sorry not to have been present since I was in Europe and Abu Dhabi (more on this later), I hear that the party was a smashing success with over a hundred guests, all the beautiful people who are Tessa’s friends.  The photographs at the end of this update do not adequately capture the essence of this two-day party.


Julian’s Full Moon Session

Unfortunately, the other big event of the month, Julian’s “Full Moon Session” was dampened by the wet weather and while successful enough, it would have been much better had the weather cooperated.

Julian tells me that his next big session will be during the long Halloween weekend and he is already keeping his fingers crossed that the weather is more cooperative this time.

Costa del Sol and Monica

For the last few weeks, Costa del Sol has been in full operation, with its 48 spacious and cozy villas and which now brings our total villas at Balesin Island Club to 233.  I am in Balesin with my wife Monica as I write this, and we had dinner at Costa del Sol two nights ago and she has run out of superlatives to describe the authentic Spanish food at Costa del Sol.  Monica has not been here since last Christmas and she is amazed at the many projects which have been completed since.


Mykonos Beach Villas

She has also fallen in love with the Mykonos Beach Villas, which is on the beach adjoining the Mykonos Taverna, comprising a total of 32 additional spacious and uniquely Greek-style units which are in six adjacent buildings named after Greek mythology gods, i.e. Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Poseidon, Dionysius and Hermes.  While the inclement weather has delayed the construction a bit, almost all villas are now ready and only the swimming pool at the center of the complex in Poseidon with its unique indoor and outdoor configuration will be completed in two weeks.  Thus, by mid-October, we will have a total of 265 villas fully operational.


Expanding the Mykonos Taverna

With the additional villas on the Mykonos beach, we will have 51 villas at Mykonos and the present dining facilities at the Thanassis Taverna will be hard pressed to accommodate all the Mykonos villagers, especially on a rainy day when the Mykonos Cove Deck is unavailable.  We have therefore decided to expand the Thanassis Taverna with an additional 32 more seating capacity for dining and lounging.


Toscana and Monica

The last village which is architecturally the most complex and therefore the most difficult to execute is Toscana.  Rico Sison is taking advantage of Monica’s presence to extract from her the details of what makes a Tuscan village authentic.  The intricate details and décor will I am sure, come as a pleasant surprise to our members.  Since it is being constructed at the same time as the Mykonos beach villas, we are targeting early November for its full completion.  

On my last trip to Tuscany, I brought back a planeload of ceramics, antique furniture, carpets, and even rustic (typical) Tuscan decorative items, not to mention several dozen cases of my favorite Italian wines.  While Monica has to return to our home in Tuscany in order to supervise this year’s olive harvest, she is looking forward to being back early in December when we plan to throw an inaugural party at Toscana, which is designed after our most favorite place in the world.  At that point, all 297 villas in Balesin Island Club would have been completed and we should be able to accommodate the many reservations at the various villages in Balesin for the Christmas holiday season, which is now nearing a thousand members and guests (typically each villa can accommodate at least four persons).


Other Projects

Other projects which were completed during the month of September are (a) the Segway trail, which is almost half a kilometer long and which presently meanders next to the Welcome Center but which we are planning to extend all the way to the Sports Center area;  (b) the Soccer Field, which is in front of the Sports Center has now been completely leveled and is now being grassed and hopefully available for play during the Christmas holidays.  We have included a running track around the Soccer Field to accommodate serious runners.

The Picnic Grove

We have also completed the Picnic Grove which is adjacent to the organic farm greenhouses, and the fish ponds where we grow “hito” and cream dory fish.  The Picnic Grove will have several dining huts where you can enjoy your favorite salad after catching your favorite fish and barbecuing it.

The City Club Opening

The month of September also marked the opening of The City Club in Makati where we had to have our top Balesin management team do double duty.  Earlier this month, we had the inaugural party which was attended by over 400 guests.  We are proud of our latest “baby,” The City Club, and we urge you to visit even if you are not a member.  This can be arranged by calling Joanna Duarte (Tel +63 908 886 3251), Manette Inocencio (Tel +63 917 837 7896), and Celina Le Niendre (Tel +63 998 985 2667) our Hospitality Director at The City Club.

My “Angels”

Over the weekend, I was delighted to have a visit at Balesin by Lilia Bautista, Siony Kalalo and Eva Policar-Bautista, who were with me during my seven-year stint in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the early 80’s.  Lilia Bautista went on to become SEC Chairman, Ambassador to WTO in Geneva and several other exalted positions in the government.  Together with Lilia San Juan (who passed away recently), Ofie Bulaong and last but not least Lilia de Lima (not Leila), who is now Head of PEZA (Philippine Export Zone Authority) and continues to do a great job for the government as Head of PEZA, they were the “angels” who helped me survive my unforgettable seven-year stint in government.  

Megan Young

While I am not a great fan of beauty contests, I have just been informed that Megan Young, the new Miss World, spent some days in Balesin earlier this year doing a photo shoot for Rogue Magazine.  Like most Filipinos, we are happy and proud of her and I was particularly pleased to learn that she had spent time in Balesin.

Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Suroor

Now, back to Abu Dhabi.  More than 35 years ago, during my days as Chairman of SGV, I started working at expanding the firm to the Middle East, which was unfortunately cut short by my appointment to the Cabinet of President Marcos in 1979.  In the late 70’s, I became friends with several distinguished leaders from the Middle East.  During my visits to the Gulf, I met many important individuals who became my friends up to the time I joined government.  

Among many, I had the good fortune of meeting and becoming friends with His Highness Sheikh Suroor, the Royal Chamberlain of the Emir of Abu Dhabi and his friends Nasser Al Nowais and his brother Hussain.  

I attended Sheikh Suroor’s wedding exactly 30 years ago in Abu Dhabi when he was married to the daughter of Sheikh Zayed, the Emir of Abu Dhabi at the time (he sent his private jet to fetch me and take me back to Manila).  I had lost touch with him after having seen him last some 15 years ago in London.  

It therefore came as a complete but pleasant surprise when I received an email from him a few weeks ago where he said that, after much research, he found my email address by calling the Philippine Ambassador to the UAE and asking me to call him as soon as possible.  Apparently, after the death of the Emir Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan some years ago, His Highness Sheikh Suroor had retired from government and was now in private business.  I quickly looked him up in Google and Wikipedia where I found out that now he controls the family business empire which is estimated at US$150 billion.  

When I called him, he first scolded me for not having kept in touch with him through the years and asked me to come to Abu Dhabi as soon as possible, which I was happy to do to see an old friend after so long.  I was astounded at the progress that had been made in Abu Dhabi where he installed me at the Royal Suite of his Jumeirah Hotel at the Etihad Towers.  The suite was so large that it took a few minutes to get from the huge master bedroom to the various meeting and living rooms, the suite being so opulent and impressive.  

His Highness was gracious enough to host a dinner for me with several of his friends the first evening and the next day to have lunch in my honor at his palace.  Throughout all of these, he mentioned to me that he had read about Balesin Island and about me in some publications recently and thus wanted to be in touch with me to see how we could work together.  After a couple of weeks in Europe, he made me return to Abu Dhabi and continue our discussions with his partner, Hussain Al Nowais.   His Highness has promised to visit Balesin as soon as possible and I certainly am looking forward to being his host.

Thus, September has been a very busy month and October promises to be even busier.


ROBERTO V. ONGPIN