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Biz Buzz: Game changer

/ 04:34 AM March 13, 2013

The flagship development at the Entertainment City complex of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. is set to open on Saturday with all the glitz and glamor tycoon Enrique Razon Jr. is known for.

According to our sources, every detail of the opening of Bloomberry Resorts’ Solaire hotel-casino is being pored over—from the guest list (a veritable who’s who, of course), to the food, the entertainment and … the official opening time.

Yes, you heard it right. Even Solaire’s official opening time is being planned, not just to the hour, but precisely to the minute.


One source told Biz Buzz that feng shui practitioners have determined the optimal opening time to be 2:28 p.m. of Saturday, March 16, 2013—not a moment sooner, not a moment later.

(This reminds us of the Beijing Olympic Games which was officially opened at exactly 8 p.m. of Aug. 8, 2008.)

No less than President Aquino will open Solaire at that exact time, with the rest of the invited guests being allowed to come in at 3 p.m., we’re told.

People who have seen the insides of the Solaire swear that Filipinos have “never seen anything like it before,” gushing over the elegant and ornate chandeliers (including a stunning piece acquired in Prague, Czech Republic) and the extensive art collection (chosen by model/celebrity/wellness advocate Teresa Herrera, along with the project’s architect Paul Steelman.)

But the real catch is the expected list of heavy-hitting “gamers” from around the region who are set to fill up Solaire’s coffers on its first day of operations.

According to one source, Razon’s own private jet will be used to fly in high rollers from Hong Kong to “break in” the casino’s gaming tables and VIP rooms.

Courtesy of this crowd, Solaire’s management expects total bets placed on the first day to be no less than—hold your breath—P1 billion.

They weren’t kidding when they said they’d “change the game,” apparently.—Daxim L. Lucas


Espinosa moving upstairs

It looks like Filipino tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan is in a succession planning mode.

Word is that one of his trusted lieutenants will soon be elevated to a lofty position in First Pacific Co., the Hong Kong-based investment firm that has controlling stakes in PLDT, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Indonesian food giant Indofood and Philex Mining Corp.

The trusted lieutenant is none other than lawyer Ray Espinosa, who is a director and head of PLDT’s regulatory affairs. He also serves as chair, president and director in several PLDT subsidiaries, including TV5.

A source said Espinosa would likely be named assistant executive director in the coming weeks, to prepare him for a senior leadership role in the MVP group.

The expected move of Espinosa to First Pacific will likely usher in a different kind of competition at the undisputed No. 2 network in the country, TV5 (because both ABS-CBN and GMA 7 claim to be No. 1).

This early, there’s talk of a three-way race for the network’s top job among Philex talking head Mike Toledo, Maynilad head honcho Ricky Vargas and TV5 number two man Bobby Barreiro. If the three gentlemen seem like odd choices for the troubled network, it’s because trust is the primary criterion, not entertainment industry experience.

But given MVP’s soft spot for TV5, sources say it’s not unlikely that the Bossing himself may assume the presidency.—Corrie Salientes-Narisma

Mining revenue sharing

In a week or two, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines will submit to the government its proposal on the contentious issue of revenue sharing. The chamber looked at best practices around the world in drafting its proposal, which has been validated by a third-party expert, chamber president Philip Romualdez told reporters on the sidelines of the Euromoney forum.

“We need to go over this hump on legislation of revenue sharing,” Romualdez told a break-out session on mining, adding that he is confident the industry would become regionally competitive. But given the mid-term elections this year, he said, legislation could be in place only by the first quarter of next year.

To be fair to the government, Romualdez said, the mining industry had seen some good signals recently—such as the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) granted to the Tampakan project, and allowing the reopening of Philex Mining.—Doris C. Dumlao


Not-so-speedy Gonzales

Remember Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all of Mexico? Apparently, not all Gonzaleses are as quick nor as popular as the Looney Tunes icon.

Take for example, Undersecretary Catherine Gonzales, who is considered by contractors and suppliers as the main reason why action at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has slowed to a halt since she took over one and half years ago.

Our buzzards told us that Gonzales—who has links to the Arroyo administration and “The Firm”—has neither refused to sign vouchers of suppliers nor sanctioned the implementation of winning contracts without explaining the reason for these setbacks.

Our buzzards claimed it was no coincidence that transportation projects have been delayed since she came on board as part of then Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas’ team in November 2011.

This chief of the DOTC’s project implementation office (PIO) and bidding and awards committee (BAC) has left in limbo suppliers and contractors who are pondering why Gonzales would sit on their requests when these vouchers and projects have already gone through the rigorous paperwork and bidding procedures in her agency.

Gonzales used to be an assistant secretary to lawyer Avelino Cruz, a founding partner of the Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo & Angangco law office, or “The Firm,” when the latter served as chief presidential legal counsel and secretary of defense under the Arroyo administration.

There is talk that Gonzales would soon relinquish her hold on the PIO but retain her seat in the BAC, which is bad news for people wanting to speed up the implementation of the Public-Private Partnership projects with the DOTC.

Our buzzards are hoping that Gonzales will eventually catch on to her cousin Speedy’s catchphrase—“Andale, andale! Arriba, arriba!”—or the much ballyhooed PPP projects are doomed to be mere power point presentations.—Gil Cabacungan

Meralco on the prowl

After its investment in a Singapore power plant jumpstarted its reentry in power generation, Manila Electric Co. has more prospective deals in the pipeline, more so in line with its primary business of distribution. Some electric cooperatives in Northern and Southern Luzon are on the block, and we heard that the group of Manuel V. Pangilinan is making a move, potentially expanding Meralco’s capability outside its core franchise area.

Meralco chief executive officer Oscar Reyes confirmed on Tuesday that Meralco is looking at fresh opportunities to acquire a private distribution utility or cooperative. But he says it is hard to say how soon a deal can be sealed.

“We’re hopeful that we can do something this year,” he said during an interview at the sidelines of the Euromoney forum.

“Let’s put it this way. We continue to look for underserved areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao where Meralco can create value for the utility there and the community. I think that’s the only way to diversify,” said Reyes.

Other sources said that if operations of cooperatives were combined, this would significantly increase the business of any group that comes in. But Meralco may not be the only one interested in doing such aggregation.

Meanwhile, Meralco’s electricity sales volume this year may grow at a slower pace than last year’s 7.1 percent, due to base effect, as well as the cold weather seen early in the year. In the first two months, volume grew by only 3.3 percent.—Doris C. Dumlao

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TAGS: Catherine Gonzales, Department of Transportation and Communications, electricity distribution, Entertainment City, First Pacific Co., gaming and casinos, Government, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), Manuel V. Pangilinan, Mining and quarrying, Philippines, Ray Espinosa, revenue sharing, Solaire hotel casino
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