This billionaires’ lair is expanding

02/5/2019 | By: Iris Gonzales
When I stepped inside the Chairman’s Villa, the posh island home of tycoon Roberto “RVO” Ongpin in pristine Balesin, I didn’t see him right away.

I thought he was still resting. It was after all a lazy Saturday morning. But his son Julian said RVO was already inside his home office.

There he was, indeed, going through some maps and blueprints. I almost forgot it was a weekend because he was already busy working.

Little did I know that hours before, RVO was even sweating it out in the gym in the basement of his luxurious abode as part of his daily morning workout.

The octogenarian tycoon is obviously not slowing down. It’s no wonder that Balesin is what it is — a self-sustaining island resort that is unique in the world. It’s even expanding.

Some have compared it to Maldives, but having explored Maldives’ different atolls years ago, I can say Balesin is nicer because it is unique, easier to navigate and most of the island is still untouched.

Located 26 nautical miles off the coast of Quezon, Balesin is a secluded, members-only resort. It is the flagship project of Alphaland, Ongpin’s upscale property company. People call it the billionaires’ lair.

At the time of my visit, there was a Valentine’s wedding. I heard private choppers hovering around the resort which I assumed belonged to the VIP guests of the VIP couple.

Alphaland started selling Balesin shares in 2011 and it opened the resort many months later. But everything still looks new. I saw how well maintained the island is when the resort’s indefatigable general manager Evans Ramos patiently showed me around. There are seven internationally themed five-star villas and many interesting amenities.

There’s a villa with Cycladic architecture, another with Italian-inspired suites, some French-styled cafes and whisky bars with an old world charm.

Indeed, Balesin is just a 20-minute flight from Manila, but it brings visitors around the world — from Mykonos in Greece to Bali in Indonesia and many charming places in between — Costa del Sol in Spain, St. Tropez in France, Phuket in Thailand, and Toscana in Italy. Representing the Filipino theme is the Balesin Village.

There’s a reason why RVO chose to bring these specific islands and regions to Balesin.

“They’re my favorite places in the world,” RVO tells me between bites of a sumptuous lunch of fresh big crabs straight from the island’s very own seafood farm.

It’s a slow afternoon and he looks relaxed in a white collarless shirt, shorts, blue running shoes and a pair of sleek aviator sunglasses.

But I know he’s just taking a short break from his busy schedule.

RVO, dubbed as Manila’s toughest tycoon, is very hands- on in supervising Balesin’s operations and ongoing expansion.

Royal villas

Balesin is, indeed, on a major expansion mode. I saw at least four multi-room private villas that are under construction, which Evans said would cater to the island’s growing clientele.

Balesin gateway

Another big news is Balesin Gateway, Alphaland’s next flagship project. Balesin Gateway is another resort that will be developed in the nearby Patnanungan Island. The company acquired more than 700 hectares on the island 22 nautical miles north of Balesin or just five minutes by Cessna.

It will have a full international airport to accommodate bigger planes carrying crazy rich Asians or the rest of the world’s well-heeled crowd.

For the Balesin Gateway, Alphaland plans to build an 18-hole golf course, a 300-room hotel and 500 beachfront and golf course homes, according to the company’s 2017 annual report. The project will take around three to four years to complete.


In Balesin, I also learned about the island’s sustainability initiatives. It has its own vegetable, fruit and seafood farms. It also conserves water and energy and uses environment friendly transportation. It employs hundreds of locals.

For these efforts and more, Balesin bagged last year the second place award in the 14th United Nations World Tourism Organization Awards for Innovation and Excellence in Tourism, the first in the history of the Philippines.

On my last hour in the island, I took a stroll along the fringes of the Toscana Villa, perched on a hilltop with a view overlooking the sea. I stood on one end and lingered just a bit longer, watching the waves splashing against giant rocks and seabirds of varied colors flying aimlessly.

It’s no wonder RVO has so much energy. Around him is an abundance of nature and 360 degrees of breathtaking views. The strong spiritual energy of the mystical mountains of Quezon also descends into the island.

Julian was right when he said, “the island takes good care of people.”

At the edge of RVO’s sprawling beachfront villa, one can lounge for hours on end by an infinity pool of salt water, sip and swirl some chilled Sauvignon Blanc, enjoy the balmy air and savor the picturesque view of the emerald blue sea.

There are many more magical spots like this all over Balesin. Find your own place and be ready to get lost in the moment.

The magic seeps through your veins and neanderthals banging in your head just disappear. Time freezes, the madness from Manila flies away with the sea breeze, and your world slips into a state of pure bliss.

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