BIZ BUZZ: Chiong’s revenge | Inquirer Business

BIZ BUZZ: Chiong’s revenge

/ 02:10 AM July 08, 2024

In about two months, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) will be turned over to the San Miguel-led consortium that bagged the P170.6-billion contract to rehabilitate, operate and maintain the country’s primary gateway.

And according to insiders in the aviation sector, among those calling the shots at the New Naia Infra Corp. (NNIC)—composed of San Miguel Holdings Corp., RMM Asian Logistics Inc., RLW Aviation Development Inc., and Incheon International Airport Corp.—is former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Cesar Chiong.

Indeed, there are talks that Chiong may even end up heading the newly incorporated venture given his vast experience in the airline industry plus his eventful years at the MIAA.

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If he does, then that will be vindication for Chiong, who had been eased out of the MIAA and even ordered dismissed by the Office of the Ombdusman after ordering the reassignment of some 285 MIAA employees within less than a year since he was appointed in July 2022.

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The Court of Appeals eventually reversed his dismissal, and Chiong has apparently moved on to greener pastures. What’s more, he may find himself dealing with the same employees who had plotted to have him removed, the same ones who must now be quaking in their boots because of his return.

Sources said, however, that his leading NNIC is not a done deal as former Customs Commissioner Lito Alvarez is already heavily involved in the discussions with the government and other stakeholders such as airline companies that will be affected by the turnover of Naia from government to private hands.

Either way, Chiong, a former EVP and COO of Air Philippines Corp. and who handled the operation and maintenance of the Boracay/Caticlan Airport, stands to exact some sweet revenge. —Tina Arceo-Dumlao

LRT 1 sale hits snag

It may take a little more time for Ayala Corp. to liquidate its 35-percent stake in Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC), operator of Light Railway Transit (LRT) Line 1, which is among the noncore assets that the Zobel-led conglomerate has put on the block.

We hear that the Metro Pacific group—which owns 55 percent of the consortium and naturally has the first crack to buy out the shares—is no longer keen to raise its interest. While tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan aka MVP wanted very much to consolidate control of LRT 1, we hear from reliable sources that he was persuaded to walk away. We hear that Ayala’s asking price was too high for MVP’s group considering that the latter had already booked impairment losses from this asset. Neither is the group of tycoon Manuel Villar anywhere close to any deal to take over the LRT 1 extension project, our sources said. Last year, Villar cited discussions to extend the railway deeper into Cavite, boosting connectivity to his “megalopolis” Villar City.

This suggests that Ayala needs to cast a wider net to look for buyers; some private equity firms have reportedly expressed interest. The good thing is that the LRT 1 concession, awarded to LRMC in 2014, has 22 more years to go, hopefully long enough to entice new investors, and its daily ridership remains high at more than 500,000.

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But in the last 10 years, it has been challenging for the operators to seek a fare adjustment. Prior to the fare increase in 2023, the last one was back in 2015, its validity was even contested all the way to the Supreme Court.

We hear that the system is now saddled with more than P20 billion in debt versus an annual cash flow of just P1 billion.

Hopefully, a new investor who’s focused on infrastructure and more tolerant of regulatory risks could enter the picture, reminiscent of how tycoon Enrique Razon had come in to scoop up Manila Water Co. at the time when it was reeling from the no-win dispute with Malacañang during the Duterte regime. —Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

SM JOBS hires 10,000th on the spot

Malls are no longer just a place to spend money; they are also venues to help thousands of Filipinos land a job.

Last month, SM Investments Corp. said job fairs under its Job Opportunities Building Skills (JOBS) program recorded the 10,000th hired-on-the-spot Filipino.

It is this milestone that’s now pushing SM to tap more government and industry/trade groups and help more Filipinos land badly needed jobs.

“SM is ready to partner with government agencies and private organizations in hosting job fairs in its malls nationwide, and roll out upskilling programs to upgrade the local workforce with relevant skills to future-proof companies,” the Sy family-led company said in a statement.

Currently joining SM’s roster of employment partners are the Private Sector Advisory Council, the Department of Labor and Employment, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Jobstreet by SEEK, and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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The conglomerate has also been quite busy since the beginning of the year, having hosted over 100 weekly job fairs in its many malls across the country. Keep your eyes peeled for the next one! —MEG J. ADONIS INQ

TAGS: Biz Buzz, Business

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