Delfin J. Wenceslao: The construction man as a nationalist and problem solver

In Photo: Delfin J. Wenceslao

WHEN Delfin J. Wenceslao, the chairman of DM Wenceslao, one of the leading construction companies in the Philippines walked into the room, the first thing I noticed was the stark contrast between his platinum hair and his sunbaked skin betraying years of exposure to construction outdoors.

He has overseen multiple infrastructure projects under many regimes and agrees with the author that a true sign of a country’s greatness is in its state of infrastructure.

Born into ‘Interesting Times’, thriving in special situations

He was born a few months after the war broke in Bulakan, Bulacan, and he speaks nostalgically about the great difficulty through the war, the nationalist fervor of his father, then a civil engineer and a guerilla fighter devoted to the family. Reluctantly, due to reasons of safety, the family had to move to Manila and founded the construction company, which is now one of the largest in the Philippines.

Delfin J. Wenceslao with President Duterte for the “Build Build Build” Program

He continues to closely monitor Bulacan and his roots, waxing optimistically as I do that Bulacan, Malolos, will soon be the emerging gateway to a Northern Development Corridor that links to both  Pampanga and Bataan(more on this in another column).

Like any Bulakenyo, you can feel his nationalistic fervor as he spoke of sharing provenance with national heroes, as Del Pilar, and even guerilla fighters as Jesus Lava, founder of the New People’s Army

These are great men who had to thrive under what I refer to in my practice as “special situations” and Wenceslao is not different from them. After a few moments of chatting about our shared provenance (this author is from Malolos), I easily understood where the revolutionary thinking to create what is today one of the biggest and most successful reclamation projects in the country has come from.

1989, reclaiming the impossible, crazy dream

In 1989 the consortium led by Wenceslao signed a contract with the Aquino government to “create assets out of water”, which is now ASEANA City and its immediate environs.

The word “reclamation”, which is the process of creating sustainable and high value land out of bodies of water. Usually hounded by issues, the reclamation project undertaken by Wenceslao was virtually unassailable because they entered an arrangement that delivered maximum returns at no cost to the government.

The Aquino government at that time was fraught with uncertainty, but thrive they did. No one wanted to respond to the bid as the government was virtually bankrupt.

“The primary reason why we got it, was because no one wanted to take it. Everyone said it was an impossible dream. Kalokohan daw yung ginagawa namin. The project was just initially to start the road…the government had no money…so we devised a way of generating value.”

Anyone who is standing at the bay city area,  from what is now called “City of Dreams” part of the area reclaimed by Wenceslao, will be smiling at the irony.

The construction man, the nation builder in a time of Duterte’s ‘Build Build Build’

“Construction is but a series of solving problems for the country,” said the former president of the Philippine Constructors Association (PCA).

As he focuses more on “solving the problems of the country” through infrastructure, and less on business, he is heartened to see the “Golden Age of Philippine Infrastructure” come about possibly under the Duterte administration. In an earlier speech he delivered as former president of the PCA, he decried the fact that the infrastructure sector was lagging behind its neighbors in Asia and that the government should do something to make the country more attractive to investors.

The industry he so very much loves and has been instrumental in building, is considered the “mother of all industries” and creates various linkages in its value chain from the GDP to investments, foreign exchange to job generation.

Nearly 72 The “Build, Build, Build” Program projects are to be bid out in what is an attempt to usher in the Golden Age of Philippine infrastructure.

“Build it and they’ll come’ is the common-sense solution to our problems,” Wenceslao said. In terms of infrastructure, we are easily behind by 10 years compared to our Asean neighbors, including communist Vietnam that’s currently also experiencing their Infra Golden Age.

He has been privileged to see the “Infrastructure Strategy” of all presidents post Marcos.

Corazon C. Aquino’s regime was defined by “new beginnings”, considering the lack of experience and lack of resources. Aseana was signed during her time but implemented during Fidel V. Ramos (FVE) and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s time. “FVR  is very decisive.”

For him, Arroyo set the right economic fundamentals by lowering interest rates to as low as 6 percent and set up the conducive environment related to infrastructure. Former President Benigno S. Aquino III was extremely cautious about infrastructure, which is a stark contrast into the almost bullish behavior of the current administration.

Looking into the future

The excellent networks and partnerships that have been forged by Wenceslao from the Ayala to the SM Group speaks of the excellent fundamentals and planning foresight that has gone into Aseana, the crown jewel of the DM Wenceslao Group.

Of the many construction companies in the Philippines, few have survived. Fewer still are those with a continuity and succession plan. For Wenceslao, their succession is in place with son Buds Wenceslao at the helm and the pillars of sustainability and mobility being at the forefront of what is to be the most walkable city in the future. DM Wenceslao prides himself in being a very patient man, but it doesn’t seem like he has to wait very long to see the Golden Age of Philippine Infrastructure come about.