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Biz Buzz: Dogged DOTC

/ 01:23 AM October 01, 2014

If there are any doubts about the doggedness of the Department of Transportation and Communications’ leadership to relocate the common station of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) from SM North Edsa to Trinoma Mall, all these doubts should be put to rest now.

DOTC wants it in Trinoma, and nothing, it seems, will get in its way. Not even a third-party bystander, which is building another rail project and has no part in the dispute.

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Biz Buzz learned that just a couple of weeks ago, Transportation Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla wrote San Miguel Corp. basically asking the conglomerate to stay out of the fray over the common rail station that’s being contested by DOTC and the Ayala group on one side, and the SM group on the other.

In a letter to San Miguel’s chief financial officer Ferdinand Constantino, Lotilla said that the DOTC “requests that Universal LRT Corp. (the SMC-controlled vehicle for the MRT Line 7 project) position is neutral to the actual location of the common station for as long as there will be no diminution of the MRT7 passenger traffic volume, to be set out in writing.”

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In other words, DOTC was telling San Miguel not to take sides—and especially not to take SM’s side in the dispute, was what was implied.

What could have prompted DOTC to take the preemptive step of warning San Miguel off from the dispute? San Miguel and SM don’t have significant business ties, but SMC head honcho Ramon Ang was a former partner of Henry Sy Sr. in the cement industry a couple of decades ago. And he still has close ties with the second generation Sy siblings, most notably Teresita “Tessie” Sy.

Conversely, San Miguel and Ayala are on opposite sides of the table in the contested Cavite-Laguna Expressway, the bidding for which is still being reviewed by Malacañang, so there is some tension there.

Unfortunately for DOTC—which seems hell-bent on relocating the common station to the Ayala-owned Trinoma Mall—San Miguel’s contract for its MRT7 clearly states that the common station where the Bulacan-to-Quezon City commuter rail will end is SM’s North Edsa mall.

Thus, San Miguel’s reply to the DOTC “request” came swiftly. It said that the concession agreement provided for a common station at the SM Annex along North Edsa, as approved by no less than the board of the National Economic and Development Authority.

“Altering the configuration of the joint station is, therefore, considered a material breach of the provisions of the concession agreement and project scope,” SMC said in its letter, adding that it fully intends to abide by the terms of the original agreement.

So if DOTC insists on locating the common station to Trinoma, it will have to rescind not just one, but two contracts with two major conglomerates.

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But will these legal roadblocks deter DOTC? Who knows? Maybe not. Daxim L. Lucas

Solidbank union blues

Former employees of the defunct Consolidated Bank and Trust Corp.—more popularly known back in the 1990s as Solidbank—had something to cheer about last week after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in a labor dispute in 2000.

And, boy, what a victory it was, with the court ordering First Metro Investment Corp. (the successor in interest of Solidbank after it was acquired by the Metrobank group 14 years ago) to pay a whopping P453 million in damages and back wages to Solidbank’s 131 union members.

But their joy is apparently short-lived. Biz Buzz learned that Metrobank and its FMIC unit have now asked the National Labor Relations Commission to issue an injunction against the Supreme Court order—a move that was predicted by the president of the Solidbank union, Evangeline Gabriel.

Curiously, Metrobank and FMIC, both owned by tycoon George Ty, sought the injunction from NLRC’s Fifth Division led by Commissioner Mercedes Lacap, to pay Solid bank Union only P50 million in separation pay. This figure, in effect, contests the P453-million award ordered by the high tribunal and another labor arbiter.

Now the Solidbank union will protest the injunction, which it claims is illegal.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? We’ll leave that to the courts, but expect to hear more on this issue in the coming weeks. Daxim L. Lucas

More solar for BPI

Striving to practice what it preaches on sustainability energy financing (SEF), Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands plans to put up power-generating solar panels in more of its stand-alone branches to help cover part of internal electricity requirements as well as mitigate climate change.

After the pioneering branch at Ayala Avenue extension went live with its solar project last year (the first in the local banking system), 31 other BPI branches have been identified as suitable to harness power from the sun, which means they have unobstructed roof decks that can accommodate solar panels.

“We probably could roll it out within the next year,” BPI president Cezar Consing told Biz Buzz at the sidelines of the two-day EnergyMart Forum, which opened Tuesday at SMX Convention Center.

For these upcoming solar-powered branches, Consing said that even if the electricity generated could cover only 10, 20 or 30 percent of internal needs, that would mean “a lot especially if there is a power shortage.” Unfortunately, Consing said BPI could not build a solar plant on every roof of BPI branches because many of these branches were inside buildings.

For other users of solar technology, Consing said longer term financing was usually required because of the long payback period. “But the good thing about it is that it’s not something that requires you to put more investment over time,” Consing said, adding that the payback period also gets shorter whenever energy prices go up.

JoAnn Eala, BPI vice president and head of SEF, said the most optimum for any enterprise or household thinking of using solar power would be to set up about eight panels costing P150,000 to P200,000 each (with a capacity to store 1.5 to 2 kilowatts per panel). “That yields enough [electricity] to run a household or a small store below that,” she said, adding, however, that anyone investing in solar panels should have a longer term horizon.

“People will have to understand that when you put up a solar panel you’re not immediately going to make a lot of money or have a lot of savings. The thing is, there’s really a lot of money that you have to put in and the payback is a little over eight years. A lot of vendors would say it’s possible to recover investment in three to five years. It is not possible,” Eala said.

“Ultimately, my concern is if [the enterprise] is too small, it may not pay for them to do it because of the capital intensity. You have be of a certain size,” Consing said. Doris C. Dumlao

 

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