Breaktime: Bonifacio gobble cityBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It was possible that the BCDA might be acting on its own last week when—using security men carrying “high-caliber” weapons, according to one report—the BCDA singlehandedly waylaid a huge property project at the 240-hectare booming BGC, or Bonifacio Global City, in Taguig.
Now BCDA is the Bases Conversion Development Authority, the 20-year-old government corporation that is “a prime mover of national development,” according to its website.
Also, the website says this about BCDA: “We transform former military bases and properties into premier centers of economic growth in partnership with the private sector with integrity, excellence and efficiency in the stewardship of government resources. We create sustainable urban communities to uplift the lives of Filipinos.”
On the other hand, the property project was none other than the much-publicized SM Aura Premier, the latest shopping mall project of the SM group of taipan Henry Sy, listed by Forbes Magazine as the richest man in the country today.
From what I gathered, the SM group invested some P3.5 billion in the project, electing a design that merited a “gold” rating from the US Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which has become the standard of sorts for eco-friendly property ventures in some 135 countries.
Located on the lower floors are a high-end shopping mall, a convention center, cinemas and restaurants. The SM group apparently wanted to create a big splash for the project inauguration last week, as it invited an international celebrity to grace the occasion, none other than movie star Sarah Jessica Parker. It seemed the SM group was going all-out on this one.
Moreover, of the 30 floors of its high-rise portion, more than 20 floors would be devoted to government offices, call centers, BPOs and multinational corporations. As far as I know, this would be the first project by the SM group, with all its 45 or so shopping malls all over the country, where the mall and offices are put together.
In other words, the new SM project should attract billions of pesos in investments, creating a lot of jobs for the more than 11 million jobless in this country. This actually tallies with the avowed mission of BCDA “to uplift the lives of Filipinos.”
And so what was behind the strange action of the government outfit BCDA when it seemingly tried to sabotage the SM group project?
Our colleague Neal Cruz reported in his column last week that the heavily armed men of BCDA actually sought to stop the construction of the road in front of the SM development, which supposedly was the access road vital to the success of the whole concept.
Reports also said that the Taguig city government actually issued permits for the construction of the road—i.e., hard copy documents officially issued by the government. After all, Taguig topped the list of Philippine cities in a red-tape measure called “Ease of Doing Business Index,” as done by the IFC, or International Finance Corp., the investment arm of the World Bank.
As for the gun-toting personnel of BCDA, reports said that they merely claimed possession of an “order” to stop construction of the business access road.
Good heavens, it was a road that the SM group was constructing, right? It was not a whorehouse or a gambling den or a drug laboratory or something like that, right? It was a road, and this country has an acute shortage of roads, right?
Why did the BCDA want to stop it?
According to the BCDA people, they had an “order,” and it could have only come from some higher-ups in the Aquino (Part II) administration.
As we all know, the BCDA as a government corporation is directly under the Office of the President, meaning, directly under our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS).
For some time now, word has been going around business establishments at BGC about the mysterious huge white structure that was fast rising on C-5 road (formally known as C. P. Garcia Avenue), which turned out to be SM Aura Premier.
The project was rising on the 3.4-hectare property in BGC that, about five years ago in 2008, the BCDA donated to the Taguig city government, which the BCDA claimed was meant for things like fire fighting contingents, satellite city hall, health centers and such.
A few years ago, the Taguig government held a public bidding for the development of the property which, as we all know by now was handily won by the SM group, since the Taguig government claimed that the donation by BCDA was “without any restriction.”
But the BCDA has opposed the construction of the structure, citing various reasons on how the property should be used by Taguig City, in effect dictating on the city government what to do with it. Strange.
Anyway, it now seems that the dispute between the local government of Taguig and BCDA would now gobble up the upscale SM Aura Premier project of Henry Sy, as it is now caught in the middle of the fight between the two government outfits, although the SM group was a mere lessee of the property.
The more interesting question is this: Why did the BCDA, and even the Taguig City government, allow the SM group to spend P3.5 billion for the construction of the SM Aura Premier?
Really, they let the SM group invest a ton of money on the project before they, or specifically the BCDA, made a big fuss out of the land use. You know—they chose to punish the investor, the SM group.
Last week, the dispute between the BCDA and the Taguig government turned ugly, as the BCDA security people used intimidation to stop the developer from constructing the access road that would be vital to the success of its P3.5-billion investment.
Really, if the BCDA was convinced that the Taguig government did something illegal in bidding out the property some years ago, perhaps the BCDA should have resorted to legal remedy by asking, for example, a court order for the city government to stop the bidding.
Business sense tells us that the BCDA should have filed a case against the city government even before the SM group could spend a single centavo on the shopping complex.
Or maybe the BCDA simply did not have a case?
The rightful owner of the property, after all, was no longer the BCDA. The Taguig city government perhaps needed the income from the rental of the property.
To think, many other LGUs enter into property development deals with private developers, including outfits like Megaworld and Ayala Land.
On the other hand, it is hard to say if the BCDA had, well, er, “other concerns” beside the land use issue over the property it donated to the city government. Look, the BCDA even had to use scare tactics!
It is just too bad that the use of intimidation against a P3.5-billion investor like the SM group most likely will send the wrong messages to other investors, including foreign companies, in this country described by the Aquino (Part II) administration as the “Rising Star of Asia.”
We seem to change the rules, not to mention the policies of the government, at the slightest provocation from some other business groups with interest in those rules and policies.
Incidentally, every business establishments at the BGC were already talking about SM Aura Premier long before it was completed, particularly because it would be adjacent to the Ayala group’s commercial complex called “Market Market” and “Serendra.”
Speculations are also rife that the bizarre tactic applied by the BCDA, even using heavily armed personnel, against an investor in BGC could be related to another case involving another 30-hectare property at the booming BGC.
The BCDA originally awarded the development of the property to the SM group, albeit through a negotiated contract, but the BCDA later decided to cancel the award.
The SM group subsequently obtained a TRO from the court.
And the drama continues to unfold.