BIZ BUZZ: Dynasty road block | Inquirer Business

BIZ BUZZ: Dynasty road block

/ 02:22 AM November 30, 2022

We’ve all heard about the nagging right-of-way issues in Silang, Cavite that have long delayed construction of the much-awaited Cavite-Laguna Expressway (Calax), which will ease travel to Tagaytay.

The infrastructure developer, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., and its contractors are in turmoil because the last parcel of land needed to complete the Aguinaldo interchange subsection has been untouchable.

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This farm—some people describe it more like a ranch — lies between the Silang exit and the unfinished Aguinaldo highway exit.

What we don’t read about is why expropriation of the land is taking too long.

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Apparently, the ranch is backed by a powerful Metro Manila-based dynasty, which is moving heaven and earth to keep this ranch intact at the expense of the public that has been waiting for this infrastructure for so long.

But as expropriation proceedings drag on, southern communities can only whisper in frustration, “That’s being servant of the people for you!”

— Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Speaking of which …

Five years after acquiring the right of way for the P35.7-billion Calax project, its total cost has now ballooned by 15 percent, to the consternation of its operator, MPCALA Holdings Inc. (MHI).

That’s not counting business and livelihood opportunities going down the drain in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon, as well as in all communities along the road.

For the municipality of Silang alone, every day of delay means lost tourism revenues for 300,000 inhabitants.

With a vital section of the Calax snagged in the right-of-way deadlock, the local government also cannot proceed to build inner roads.

Hence, they can’t lure in more visitors and investors to become the “Botanical Garden of the Philippines,” Silang Mayor Kevin Anarna lamented.

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Worse, the delay may cost Silang its bid for cityhood by 2025.

The 40,000 motorists per day who stand to benefit from Calax’ full operation are not even included in this scenario just yet.

Because so much is at stake, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should step in to break the right-of-way deadlock holding up a critical section of the project for half a decade now, Anarna said.

The DPWH itself admitted that problems with acquiring right of way remain on top of the list of obstacles for infrastructure projects.

To date, only 64 percent of the Calax Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange subsection, the fifth of eight segments of the 45-kilometer expressway, has been finished.

An undelivered right of way on 450 meters of land, the property of a private corporation owned by a prominent politician, obstructs work on the project.

That right of way runs smack into stables for race horses, Biz Buzz hears.

“We’re checking what legal remedies are available to us,” Anarna said. “Maybe we can get a compromise agreement [between MHI and the private landowners] before the end of the year.”

MHI has to demolish the stables to build a bridge and drainage systems connecting to the rest of the expressway.

“Because that vital portion of Calax is unfinished due to right of way concerns, our tourist attractions are not being developed and visited well,” Anarna explained.

Silang’s cityhood depends on the completion of the Calax, the mayor reiterated.

If MHI acquires the right of way by end of this year, it can open the Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange by first quarter 2023.

Already, MHI has moved the road’s opening date several times. The most recent date was December 2022, although the company said this remains uncertain.

After all is said and done, no one can underestimate how crucial right of way access is. Without that, everyone loses.

—Daxim L. Lucas

Converge’s big plans

Fiber internet billionaire Dennis Anthony Uy has a plan for the whole country to have broadband access in at least two years and it doesn’t involve the government’s free Wi-fF program.

Uy, who takes time off his busy schedule to advise the government on digital infrastructure matters, said the answer involved a mix of technologies and the use of public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

PPP is a favored scapegoat—option, rather—for either private and government sources not willing to do enough by themselves but are more than happy to pass the buck.

This isn’t the case for Uy’s Converge ICT Solutions, which built its nationwide fiber internet network from the ground up.

Uy is committing to build more fiber lines but the option is too costly for some areas, which is where other technologies such as satellite internet and wireless technologies used by the traditional telco firms come into play.

In a recent television interview, Uy pitched for the use satellite internet for very remote areas while a PPP scheme can be done to build cell sites in locations where it doesn’t make sense for telcos to invest.

What he doesn’t believe in, however, is the widespread use of Wi-Fi, which he said was unreliable in outdoor spaces.

For Uy, no one needs to be left behind in the digital race.

Today, some 30 percent of Filipinos don’t have access to internet but that could change in two years if the government follows through with this plan.

— Miguel R. Camus

No ‘luh’s’ for Lazada ambassadors

We will likely not see overly controversial Lazada brand ambassadors anytime soon, with the e-commerce company seemingly having learned some second-hand lessons from the most recent controversy involving its closest competitor, Shopee.

Lazada Philippines CEO Carlos Barrera said last week that among the qualities they now look for when it comes to endorsers are personalities that are “very positive,” with broad reach and mass appeal.

“To be very frank, we are a company for every Filipino. We tend to be careful with being associated with any sides,” Barrera said, reacting to questions about the controversy involving Shopee and its 10.10 brand ambassador, Toni Gonzaga.

“We study on a case-by-case basis. We don’t necessarily like to judge what people do. But we also need to be professional and remain agnostic with some things,” said the Lazada official.

Some of Lazada’s most recent brand ambassadors include Anne Curtis, Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards—celebrities who are popular and widely recognized but can hardly be considered as controversial or too polarizing.

Back in September, Shopee found itself under fire after announcing two major decisions that month that appeared to be in conflict to many Filipinos: laying off a sizable portion of its local staff and hiring a politically divisive and believed to be highly paid celebrity.

The celebrity vlogger is a staunch supporter of President Marcos and was a popular fixture in his presidential campaign.

Gonzaga’s selection prompted a call for a boycott of the online mall with many on social media announcing they would be removing the Shopee app from their phones and moving to Lazada.

“It probably drove some growth but we are growing overall. And it is really hard to attribute,” Barrera said when asked to comment if they benefited from controversy involving the competing brand.

—Alden M. Monzon
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TAGS: Biz Buzz, Calax, Converge, Lazada
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