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BIZ BUZZ: Okada’s moment of truth

/ 04:25 AM July 06, 2022

Okada Manila leisure resort and casino is about to come to a head.

Word on the street heard by Biz Buzz is that the Supreme Court will decide on and announce an important ruling today.

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We heard that the high tribunal will hand down its decision on whether the status quo that will be restored in the controversial establishment at Pagcor Entertainment City will be the state of things before embattled Japanese businessman Kazuo Okada was ousted from the board of the firm he founded, or return it to the state that existed before the forceful physical takeover that happened early last month.

The Supreme Court’s decision is highly anticipated by both camps involved in the dispute. One side led by Okada and businessman Antonio Cojuangco currently have physical control of the establishment after their blitzkrieg takeover last month. The other side, led by the hotel’s parent firm, Tiger Resorts, is hoping to preserve the gains they say they’ve made since they booted out Okada in 2017.

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Also closely watching the Supreme Court decision are creditors of the establishment, many of which are exposed to the parent firm through billions of pesos in bonds. The high tribunal’s decision, we hear, will determine if they will call in the loans they’ve extended to Okada Manila since 2017.

Which way will the magistrates of the Supreme Court rule? We’ll know on Wednesday. Abangan!

—Daxim L. Lucas

JJB’s mindset and experience

Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista (a.k.a. JJB) faces a transport crisis due mainly to lack of supply caused by the high fuel prices of late that have discouraged drivers from plying their routes; official lethargy in pursuing rail and rapid bus systems; and the mindset of regulators to put a cap on the number of vehicles which protects a few players at the expense of the riding public.

But if putting a cap works, why not limit the number of buses, taxis, airline aircraft, tricycles, jeepneys and boats?

Why limit the number of transport network vehicle services when many car owners are raring to earn more and can offer carpools that can help solve the traffic problem and generate jobs while serving the public?

Why limit motorcycle taxis to 15,000 units to each of the three players (yes, limited to only three) when there are thousands of riders who are ready to serve the millions of commuters who have to jostle each day for a ride? Where is the competition?

The low-hanging fruit for Bautista is to remove the caps, foster competition, generate jobs and introduce more supply to serve the commuters.

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Another is to rush the implementing rules of the Public Service Act which allows 100-percent foreign ownership in sectors that are no longer considered as public utilities or critical infrastructure like airlines, airports and some sectors of public transport.

This early, investors have already shown interest. A Malaysia-based private equity firm focusing on Southeast Asia has reportedly acquired a strategic stake in one of three motorcycle taxi companies.

A foreign investor will demand better management and efficient service for the company to grow. It will also likely introduce more advanced technology. All of these mean better service and brownie points for the new administration.

There are more investments in the works, we hear.

Bautista has the golden opportunity to be the savior for all, commuters and the ride providers alike. He knows business must be efficient to succeed given his private sector experience. But can he keep politics at bay? Watch this space, folks.

—Daxim L. Lucas

Relocated

The “lolo pianist” often spotted in upscale shopping malls in Makati City and Quezon City appears to have found a new home base further south.

Vidalito Infante, fondly called Lolo Bong, has gained a loyal following among mall goers for his spirited takes on Filipino and Western classics.

During the pandemic, Lolo Bong disappeared from his usual haunts given the restrictions imposed on senior citizens.

We last heard he held a successful online concert, attended by his fans trapped at home during lockdown, to raise money for his maintenance medicines.

The good news is Lolo Bong is well and remains active. These days, he plays his crowd-pleasing tunes in a popular mall in Biñan, Laguna.

It’s common knowledge that work can be less financially rewarding for freelance artists and musicians in the Philippines. To illustrate, the managers of a mall in an upscale Makati City enclave have not given him any pay raise for nearly two decades, he shared.

He told Biz Buzz he was happier in this location, the air was fresher and the pay was certainly better.

—Miguel R. Camus

Policy continuity

Former Finance chief Sonny Dominguez is likely resting in his Batangas farm today well-assured, as former BSP governor Ben Diokno took over the reins at the Department of Finance (DOF) and is now President Marcos’ chief economic manager.

During their turnover ceremonies last Wednesday, the outgoing and incoming DOF secretaries had nice words to say to each other; after all, they had a long history of working together, spanning back to when they were both part of the Cory Aquino administration.

For Dominguez, Diokno was “the best possible choice for this demanding job.”

“I am confident that he has the skills, the insight, and the dedication,” Dominguez said, but warned Diokno to “prepare to work 24/7.”

“I wish you stamina and success in this new endeavor. The former secretaries of finance, myself included, will be behind you at every step of the way. We are ready to assemble and share insights as they have been in helping me. This will help to ensure the continuity in our policies,” Dominguez told Diokno.

For his part, Diokno committed to “build on the work of my predecessor, Secretary Sonny, and move to achieve even greater heights for the Filipino people we all serve.”

“I know fully well that the road ahead is going to be difficult. But I also see a lot of opportunities for the Philippines to move forward and settle among our high-flying Asean peers,” said Diokno, who would lead what could be a painful consolidation of the country’s fiscal state, which had been battered by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve heard most of the undersecretaries appointed by Dominguez to the DOF would likely stay; Diokno had asked them to continue serving the government, for continuity’s sake.

A longtime civil servant, Finance Undersecretary Maria Edita Tan will serve as Diokno’s chief of staff. With more work needed to be done at the DOF (than, say, the BSP and the Department of Budget and Management or DBM, which Diokno also used to head), Tan will be a reliable hand to assist the new finance chief with his more challenging tasks ahead.

Among the new faces, Diokno brought with him to the DOF former BSP economic research senior director Zeno Ronald Abenoja as undersecretary to head the domestic finance group, while privatization will be headed by Cathy Fong.

Even former socioeconomic planning secretary (and earlier, DOF undersecretary) Karl Kendrick Chua, who has been telling everyone he will go back to school after his National Economic and Development Authority stint, was being offered to return to government service, perhaps after a year of rest. Chua will attend the Asian Institute of Management’s one-year data science program.

As for Diokno’s former chief of staff at the DBM and the BSP, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman recently said she will bring in former Department of Transportation assistant secretary Goddes Libiran to help her, especially with budget season drawing near.

With old names prominent in this new administration’s economic team, it seems that unity—and continuity, which Dominguez had wanted—did prevail.

—Ben O. de Vera

Welcoming BBM

Employees of the Department of Agriculture (DA) enthusiastically welcomed their new boss, no less than President Marcos, when he stepped into the portals of the agency for the first time on Monday.

Reporters covering Marcos’ visit to the DA, however, received a lukewarm reception as we were barred from roaming around or staying near the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM) office where the maiden executive committee meeting of the DA was held.

Likewise, reporters were not allowed to take pictures or videos of the area and the Presidential Security Group said we should stay inside the designated press office while the so-called meeting was ongoing.

The closest the media could get to Mr. Marcos was when he left the DA premises and the DA staff (well, most of them) chanted “BBM” many times before boarding his vehicle.

Mr. Marcos was in the DA headquarters in Quezon City to discuss with high-ranking agriculture officials all the pressing matters concerning the country’s agriculture sector which is still struggling to overcome the setbacks wrought by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

During the closed-door meeting which lasted for more than an hour, the President said the first item on the agenda was to deal with the global food crisis which would affect the country for the next two quarters by bolstering the outputs of rice and corn, among the staple food of Filipinos.

He would also put a twist to his late father’s agricultural program aimed at increasing the country’s rice production, saying there is a need to “operationalize” Masagana 150 and Masagana 200, among the plans proposed by his predecessor, former Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

Masagana 150 is targeting to yield 7.5 tons of inbred rice per hectare at a production cost of P8.38 per kilogram. On the other hand, Masagana 200 seeks to generate 10 tons of hybrid rice per hectare at a production cost of P7.82 per kilogram.

Aside from reviewing the rice tariffication law and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the new agriculture chief mentioned the need to craft a multiyear plan to “construct our value chain.”

Mr. Marcos is yet to appoint a point person or officer in charge at the agriculture department. And since he happens to be the Philippines’ chief executive, all announcements or releases regarding his plans and programs for the essential sector will be released by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

In the meantime, let’s see if the President can deliver his promise of making food items affordable; in particular, lowering the price of rice to P20 per kilogram. One can only hope he is the right person for the job.

Like we always say here at Biz Buzz, abangan!

—JORDEENE B. LAGARE INQ

The business headlines in under one minute


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