Just before the 30th anniversary dinner reception of Ambassador Jose “Joey” Antonio’s Century Properties Group, Inc. on Nov. 24 at Shangri-la Makati’s Rizal Ballroom — which was also his birthday bash graced by entertainers Piolo Pascual, Vina Morales and Gary Valenciano as well business titans from SGV Group founder Washington SyCip to SM Group’s Hans Sy — the real estate tycoon and President Rody Duterte’s newly-appointed special envoy to the US granted the STAR an exclusive interview.

Last year, way before Donald Trump announced his intention to run for US president, I had requested Antonio to arrange for me to interview his business partner, the American realty tycoon, in New York City and he agreed to do so, but I forgot to follow up on this request, perhaps not realizing that he would someday be US president.

His son John Victor “Jigger” Antonio said: “Our dad is successful due to his unnerving, unending entrepreneurial spirit, his never-ending passion and his desire to really help others.” Son Jose Roberto “Robbie” Antonio added: “Our dad has excelled because he’s resilient. He came from nothing, he has drive and he’s hungry.” Here are excerpts of our interview with Ambassador Joey Antonio.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Why of all the many business celebrities abroad did you choose Donald Trump five years ago to be your partner for the branding of your Trump Tower project in Makati City and how did you get to know him?

AMBASSADOR JOEY ANTONIO: Among the many famous personalities in business, Donald Trump is the only one who has put his name on real estate properties all over the world. I’ve known Trump for many years already. My son Robbie knows his sons and daughter.

When will you turn over units at your $150 million, 57-story Trump Tower project and will you invite members of the Trump family to grace that occasion here?

We’ll turn over units by the second quarter of 2017. We’ll invite members of the Trump family to the Philippines. I’m sure one of them will be here and most likely one of Trump’s children.

Do you think President Duterte or yourself will attend the inauguration of Donald Trump as new US president? Your choice as special envoy before Trump’s stunning election win shows the political astuteness of Duterte.

On who will attend Trump’s inauguration, we still don’t know. On my appointment, in reality, I was appointed by President Duterte last October yet and not only because I know Donald Trump, but also probably due to my experience in working with American corporations.

Back to President Duterte. He’s a graduate of San Beda College and you’re a cum laude graduate as well of San Beda. Were you classmates or batchmates? Did you meet in school?

Yes, we’re both San Beda alumni, but I think he’s older. We’re from different branches; he studied law there and I studied business, so we had no opportunity to meet in school.

When did you first meet President Duterte and what are your impressions of him?

The first time I met him was just before he ran for president. I think President Rody Duterte is very focused, he’s very passionate about his goals and he is very hardworking.

You were also former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s special envoy to China. In retrospect, after what has happened in recent years and Duterte’s reforms, did GMA seem correct in her foreign policy of leading the Philippines to be a friend of all powers?

Yes, I think we should have an independent foreign policy. The Philippines should be friend of all powers. We should seek win-win and not a zero-sum game. We should relate to all countries.

Your thoughts on former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?

I wish her continued happiness and good health. I read that under President Arroyo’s administration, she accomplished 44 quarters or 32 quarters of continued economic growth. I think the records will show that she, also the following administration, led the Philippines to become one of the most economically successful countries in Southeast Asia. President Duterte in his first quarter as our leader, the Philippines registered very good 7.1 percent economic growth.

I heard you admire self-made business leaders Henry Sy and John Gokongwei, Jr., and that they helped you when you were starting in real estate?

Yes. For my first realty project in 1987, I borrowed money from Henry Sy’s Banco de Oro at their first branch in Cubao, Quezon City, it was then a savings bank. John Gokongwei, Jr., when he established Robinsons Galleria, I was his marketing arm then.

I heard you’re now part of an ongoing photo exhibit at the National Museum up to Nov. 28. When did you go into photography?

Photography, that’s my hobby. Siguro (Perhaps) I’ve been serious for the past five years.

What are your favorite camera brands?

I have various camera brands, but Leica is my brand of choice. I also use the Huawei P-9 smartphone, it’s their latest model, it has two camera lenses — colored and black and white.

The world’s foremost architect, Chinese-American I. M. Pei, helped design your Essensa condominium. Was that your best realty project?

I don’t think it’s the best, because I think all of our Century Properties projects are outstanding. Paris Hilton designed our beach club for Azure Urban Resort Residences, and we have others too. Essensa was architecturally the most prominent, because I. M. Pei is a world-famous Pritzker Prize awardee.

I heard you also went to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru. Your assessment of President Duterte’s high-level meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and China President Xi Jinping?

President Putin was impressed with our leader President Duterte. Putin said that Duterte is a very charming person. On Duterte’s bilateral meetings with Xi and Putin, my hope is that we, the Philippines, can be good friends to everybody, to all powers.

I heard you’ve joined National Geographic Expedition guided tours. What places were the most memorable?

I’ve joined their tours to Bhutan, Mongolia and New York City. Bhutan and Mongolia were the most memorable because they’ve retained their character. You should go visit Bhutan, the people there are happy even if they do not have much money. That country measures “gross national happiness,” not our usual economic measure of gross domestic product or GDP. They measure well-being there by their happiness and not by their wealth.

On wealth, I wrote in my columns a few years ago that Forbes magazine should include you and other billionaires in their annual wealthiest list. How wealthy are you?

I don’t measure wealth, trabaho lang tayo (I just do my work).

What makes you happiest?

Fulfillment in accomplishing my goals, I’m happiest with the feeling of accomplishment — whatever it is, whether it’s work or my personal projects. I am also happiest when I have the opportunity to share with people.

You have highly educated sons. Who among them will you choose as your future successor?

Well, I think… We have agreed to a platform for future growth, on group effort.

You’ve achieved a lot in your career and in your family, any other dream projects?

Beyond our business, my dream is for the Philippines to continue economic growth, especially in two important industries crucial to progress — tourism and agriculture. We only attract 4.3 million tourists a year to the Philippines, this is one of the smallest (tourism numbers) in Southeast Asia. We have great potential for tourism growth in our natural destinations like beaches and mountains, but we need to build more infrastructures. I am very optimistic about the infrastructure plans of the Duterte administration, we’re going to see a golden era of infrastructures development. The government is budgeting P8 trillion for infrastructure (projects), and if all that is implemented, I think economic progress will spread all over the country.

You said years ago that your father didn’t want to totally retire, that he worked for your business in the human resources department. How old is he and is he still working?

My father is turning 90 by July. Oo, pumapasok pa (Yes, he’s still going to the office).

Your late grandfather Ramon Antonio, Sr. was the first non-Spanish vice president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI). Was he the biggest influence on your success?

When I was growing up, my grandfather was mentoring me.  He stressed the importance of education and hard work.

What about your own advice now to young people?

My advice to them: Think big and follow your dream. But you have to watch how you will implement your dream.

What are the top three reasons for your success?

First, I try to look long-term. I have vision for my business or personal goals. Second is implementation, because vision without implementation is hallucination. Third, be fair to all.

Source: The Philippine Star | November 27, 2016