“Wonderful men and women took me under their wings, teaching me how to learn from my mistakes, ‘cheerleadered’ me along the way, truly believing in me more than I believed in myself.”
“The best way to repurpose the old Clark International Airport (CRK) terminal is as a vaccination hub,” says Bi Yong Chungunco, 56, chief executive officer of the Luzon International Premiere Airport Development (Lipad) Corp. The consortium, made up of Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc., Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions Inc. and Changi Airports Philippines Pte. Ltd., Singapore’s Changi Airports International subsidiary, is overseeing the future of the Philippines’ newest aviation hub.
“The vaccination center is right next door. It can innoculate 100 passengers an hour. It will open as soon as the government gives the go signal.” Chungunco says.
This lawyer who manages and operates CRK for Lipad adds: “Clark International Airport is major growth driver for Central and North Luzon. Getting the new terminal ready will contribute to country’s economic recovery.”
Until the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the aviation sector, CRK served four million passengers in 2019, through 700 flights of the airlines based there. When the new terminal opens in July, it is expected to handle eight million passengers annually, double the existing capacity. Located 1.5 kilometers from the old terminal, the four-story facility features 110, 000 square meters of floor area and 18 aerobridges.
Set against a majestic landscape backdrop, passengers will be able to view the Zambales mountain ranges on the east, and Pampanga province’s Mt. Arayat on the west through thoughtfully placed, large picture windows. Influenced by Filipino artistry and ingenuity, soft gray hues inform the floors and check-in hall pillars, while cream mountainside rock hues dominate the arrival hall. Blue and green tones in the meet and greet areas suggest the clear waters and green fields of the surrounding countryside.
“We will operate a ‘silent airport policy’ in the Philippines’ quietest and most relaxing airport. You won’t hear the boarding announcements,” Chungunco says. On her birthday in August last year, Emirates Airlines conducted its first, one-off commercial flight, using the iconic Airbus A380 aircraft to CRK from Dubai.
“Delight, Care, Protect and Grow” represent Chungunco’s company values. People-focused, it [Lipad] promotes “employees’ caring for community,” she explains. During the recent Christmas festivities, 300 OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) from Dubai received piping-hot bibingka (rice cakes) upon arrival. “We get lots of overseas Filipino workers at CRK. We know how much they worked so hard abroad, and how they missed Philippines. We want to extend a warm welcome as soon as they set foot at the airport,” Chungunco adds. “This Valentine season, our employees can buy balloon bouquets for loved ones. Proceeds go to the Operation Heart Foundation Inc.”
Chungunco was born to a traditional Hokkien Chinese family, whose daughters had the prefix Bi, signifying beautiful (in Chinese) attached to their names. Her own, Bi Yong, means beautiful face, while her sisters were named beautiful knowledge, beautiful weather, beautiful talent and beautiful character. She studied at the Immaculate Concepcion Academy, a Catholic all-girls‘ institution in the Binondo district of Manila – “the same school where my sisters, mother-in-law and cousins went to, and also where I sent my daughter to,” she says. She completed her undergraduate studies at the Ateneo de Manila de University before pursuing law at the Ateneo de Manila Law School.
Chungunco’s father, who fled Xiamen province, China during the civil war of 1949, has always been her first mentor and enduring role model. She says: “At 11, he was forced to leave his family, and travelled alone to the Philippines. He spent several years taking whatever jobs he could find, even working in the docks, settling in a new environment where he did not know anybody. And he thrived, setting up his distributorship business in lumber and plywood for the Nasipit Lumber Company.” It was he who instilled her the tenet that “if you put in the work, you will thrive in any circumstances.”
This past president of the Tax Management Association of the Philippines boasts of an interesting career. She worked in various law firms, including as general counsel of Jardine Davies, before joining Lafarge (now known as the LafargeHolcim Group, the global leader in building materials and solutions) as country general counsel in the Philippines before being sent to Paris at age 40, to fulfill a number of important positions supervising legal operations. Along the way, she was also appointed president and chief executive officer of Lafarge Malaysia, one of the largest industrial companies listed with the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. After the merger of Lafarge and Holcim in 2015, she went back to operations in charge of Southeast Asia-West Region, based in Singapore, overseeing Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Her last assignment with the Group was head of divestments, focusing on Asia-Pacific Region and concurrently, head of the Lafarge operations in China. She is also an independent non-executive director of the Alstom Group, a multinational company listed in the Paris Euronext, operating worldwide in rail transport market.
A year-long sabbatical leave in Manila in 2017 led to her current role in Lipad.
Chungunco looks back on her corporate journey with gratitude. She says: “Wonderful men and women took me under their wings, teaching me how to learn from my mistakes, ‘cheerleadered’ me along the way, truly believing in me more than I believed in myself.
“Today, I pay it forward — back to the men and women in my life, to my children, empowering them as I have been empowered.”
This single mom of two sons and one daughter may have missed dinners with them as she tried to maintain a delicate balance between quality leadership and sensitive parenting. The sacrifice has paid off, it seems. She says: “I have come to cherish the times we spent together. All of them have grown up to be self-reliant and independent thinkers. They do not need me to be their driver as they drive themselves; to chaperone them in their outings; to be their banker when shopping as they now shop on their own.
“It is such a privilege to witness their becoming whom they are supposed to be. I am excited to be in this phase of my life.”