Biz Buzz

Uncle Sam in BGC

The creation of a government financial cluster in Bonifacio Global City— envisioned to host the likes of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Finance—isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

It turned out that the US government has a claim on the 10-hectare land as part of the post-World War II Manila American cemetery. From what we gathered, the US government appeared uninterested in exercising ownership on this lot in previous decades and the lot has since been invaded by informal settlers now reaching about a thousand families. The US started reasserting its claim in the 1990s as the former Fort Bonifacio military camp—now rebranded as BGC—started urbanizing.

There are indications that the US government is willing to sell back the lot to the government for $10 million but the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) is worried that taking over the property will be difficult to execute. Not only will it have to pay for the land but the clearing of  informal settlers is seen costing a lot.

Subject to approval of Malacañang, the BCDA’s proposal is for the Philippine government to formally request the US to drop its claim on this parcel of land. Certain sweeteners may be added—such as the expansion of the International School and the establishment of a Fil-Am friendship-themed Freedom Park. The SEC, BIR and other government agencies can then acquire the land on which to build their future office towers.

So this is probably why the SEC, which is in urgent need of a new home because its current building in Ortigas is an earthquake trap, isn’t counting on settling in BGC in the next five years. Doris C. Dumlao

If the price is right

It appears Malaysia’s Berjaya Group has its eye on the Atrium building in Makati for a possible hotel development project.

Incidentally, local unit Berjaya Philippines Inc. is already operating hotels in the Philippines.

Inquirer sources said the company has bought out most of the ground floor tenants and the market buzz is that some units were acquired for around P100,000 per square meter.

Apparently, feelers have also been sent to other tenants asking them what their asking price might be for their respective units. While working on buying out other tenants such as Pag-IBIG, the Berjaya Group is said to be leasing out ground floor space to retailers.

So what are the other tenants waiting for? It seems they are waiting for firm offers from Berjaya to see if the price is right. Riza T. Olchondra

Glamor girls

First impressions are indeed important especially for aspiring cabin crew ( read: flight attendants) at Philippine Airlines, where making an instant impact can land you the job.

We’re not kidding. Apart from buying the newest planes, PAL also wants its flight crew to represent the most beautiful the country has to offer—and fast.

About five seconds fast, in fact, according to president Ramon S. Ang, referring to the highly competitive process.

Ang, who promised last year that PAL will have the most beautiful flight attendants in Asia, said he helps out in the screening committee.

“When we screen, we spend about five seconds per person,” Ang said.

No personal questions are asked—this could be misconstrued as harassment, Ang said—only qualifications and looks are graded.

We’re inclined to trust the businessman’s taste. Such a skill could have been picked up in his years running San Miguel Corp. and its liquor units known for launching the careers of dozens of female models and actresses.

It wasn’t clear how many flight attendants PAL needed but Ang said the airline was buying 71 new planes in the coming years. That sounds like a lot of cabin crew.

More importantly, these new “ambassadors” will also be an effective way to showcase the talent and beauty the Philippines has to offer.

In that regard, we fully support this rapid hiring spree.   Miguel R. Camus

Fingers crossed

Diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. could be signing up to take over the management of debt-ridden Albay Electric Cooperative Inc. (Aleco) this week. If all goes well, that could be set on paper by Sept. 14, sources said.

The electric cooperative ranks sixth nationwide in terms of sales but is also among those with the biggest debt levels, estimated at about P4 billion. That’s a lot of beer, flight tickets and power sales, but pundits say if anyone can pay those off, that would be San Miguel. (Aleco has no other suitors anyway).

San Miguel—the lone bidder in a tender for the right to manage Aleco for 25 years—and the power cooperative supplying Albay were earlier expected to sign an agreement by Sept. 18. There were initial jitters of a protest, but this did not materialize. So what’s keeping them from signing an agreement? Apparently, Aleco and San Miguel first have to meet on the transition plan.

San Miguel president Ramon S. Ang earlier confirmed via text message that the conglomerate might soon be running the cooperative that distributes electricity in the province of Albay. The National Electrification Administration said the majority of Aleco members voted during the weekend to accept “private sector participation.”

Ownership of Aleco remains with the people of Albay, whose fingers are likely crossed that a permanent solution will soon save them from the threat of power outages. Riza T. Olchondra

Moving banks


HSBC Savings Bank—the consumer banking cousin of HSBC Philippines— is on the lookout for a new head after its president Patrick Cheng was successfully pirated by Philippine Bank of Communications.

Having headed HSBC Savings since 2008, Cheng was responsible for leading the bank to break into the top five of the thrift bank league table, as well as having its net income double during the same period. (HSBC Savings was formerly the underutilized PCI Savings Bank, with the British banking giant acquiring the thrift bank in 2001.)

At PBCom, Cheng will be responsible for growing the bank’s consumer banking portfolio, under its president (and fellow ex-Citibanker) Nina Aguas. The bank—controlled by businessman Eric Recto—has big plans going forward and is actively looking for an acquisition target, Biz Buzz hears.

As for HSBC, it seems to be happy to share its talent pool with the rest of the banking community, the way Citibank (the old “banking university”) did in years past.

“I’m happy that the market selects HSBC talents,” HSBC country head Wick Veloso said. “We are spreading our skills and camaraderie in the market. I’m happy that Eric’s bank will benefit from our technology.”

It would be really interesting to watch these two gentlemen meet face to face after this. Daxim L. Lucas

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Bullish on PH market, Citi sees big growth in credit card business