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CSR? Nope, more like corporate arrogance

I was told that residents along the road in Barangay Baldoza, Lapaz have started a signature campaign to voice their complaints about the disturbance caused by heavy trucks of La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in hauling raw materials from its private port in Barangay Ingore.
Baldoza becomes the second barangay to complain about the noise.
I asked former Punong Barangay Ernie Poral whether the flour manufacturer has made any efforts to mitigate the rumbling noise of their heavy trucks and shaking of the ground. He said there is no such effort.
I had hoped that after the public hearing conducted by the Committee of the Whole of the Sangguniang Panlungsod two weeks ago, La Filipina Uygongco would take steps to address the complaints.
But it appears the company is oblivious to the disturbance to the community. Last July 24, the hauling operations went on the whole night, and many residents were unable to sleep.
Is this a case of corporate arrogance? I learned the company has a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. However, its behavior points the other way about its social responsibility.
I hope our City Councilors can schedule a second public hearing so that it can obtain more information about these issues.
Right now, I am waiting for the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) in Manila to release the documents relative to the company’s application for a permit to build and operate this private port.
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Aksyon Radyo picks up issue on Uygongco private port

I am flattered to know that Aksyon Radyo station manager and anchorman John Paul Tia has picked up the issue on the construction of a private port by La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.
This is a matter of supreme importance, because as discussed last night by urban development and planner Francis Gentoral, good port facilities are a must for Iloilo City to be competitive.
Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

As it is, the existing Iloilo Commercial Port Complex is congested. On any given day, three or four foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for their turn to dock and unload their cargo. Every day of delay is costly; shippers have to pay demurrage (penalty charged by ship owners) an estimated $2,500-3,000 per day of delay.
The reputation of the Iloilo Port is now close to being ruined in the shipping industry. According to my sources, owners of foreign vessels are starting to impose higher than usual demurrage. That means only one thing: Iloilo Port could be treated like a leper by international shipping companies.
This is the core of my expose on the Uygongco Port.
By building a private port near the existing ICPC, it has effectively blocked the room for expansion. This is detrimental to Iloilo’s economy. Also, it gave Uygongco unfair advantage over other companies who depend on the ICPC for their shipping requirements.
Right now, what is highlighted is the complaint of residents of Barangay Ingore about the noise and disturbance of the heavy equipment hauling soya, sorghum and wheat that are unloaded at the private port.
These are the raw materials for the manufacture of flour.
I am waiting for the Philippine Ports Authority to furnish me with all the records and documents relative to the grant of the permit to construct and operate to Uygongco.
There have been short-cuts made, and violations of the law may have been committed.
I think the business community should be interested in this issue.
Again, just for the record, I have nothing against Uygongco building its private port. It can build one twice or thrice the size of this one. My point is that such private port must be situated outside of the port development area for the ICPC.

Uygongco’s private port

It was only two weeks ago that I discovered there’s a private port now operating offshore of Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City. I was talking with Atty. Eduardo Jalbuna, who is the lawyer for cement and hotel entrepreneur Boy So (of the La Carmela de Boracay fame), about the congestion at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex in Barangay Loboc.

This congestion was made apparent during a trip by pumpboat to Buenavista, Guimaras recently. I saw three or four foreign vessels laying at anchor on the Guimaras Strait. I have heard about importers hurting badly from the demurrage they have to pay to owners of chartered vessels for delays in unloading their cargo. Owners of chartered vessels also don’t like making Iloilo a port of call because their schedules are turned topsy-turvy.

Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

Definitely such a situation does not augur well for Iloilo City, especially as it now positions itself as the new hub for trade and commerce in Central Philippines. And the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is fully aware of this handicap of the ICPC being inadequate for the city’s growing needs for shipping. If Iloilo City wants to become a major player for the export market, its port facilities should be upgraded to accommodated more and bigger ships.

As far back as 20 years ago, I have heard PPA talk about building a longer berthing pier and reclaiming land for cargo handling at the ICPC. But it’s obvious its efforts to achieve that goal has fallen behind the growth of cargo ship traffic. The number of vessels laying at anchor and charging demurrage to importers is enough proof of that. That failure directly affects the ability of the city to fulfill its potential. It cannot grow fast enough without bigger and better port facilities.

ships at anchor off iloilo port

Foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for berthing space to be vacated at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex. Each day that these ships wait at anchor cost shippers demurrage charges of $2,500 per day of delay.

Hence, the construction of this private port by La Filipina Uygongco is detrimental to the interest of Iloilo City’s economy. What is objectionable isn’t the fact that the flour maker built its own port; it has every right to do that. But building it in the expansion area for the ICPC is what makes it wrong. The private port is sitting right on where the expansion of the ICPC should be.

The PPA has a lot of explaining to do on this issue. My sources told me that Uygongco has long attempted to get a certificate of no objection from PPA, but was always turned down. Then, in 2014, somebody so powerful in the Aquino administration twisted arms at the PPA to force its top management to drop its objection to the private port. It’s that simple. A powerful politician who claims he wants Iloilo City to grow and prosper is also the same person who thwarted it.

I have asked the DENR to provide me with a copy of the Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) that would give it authority to build the private port in the foreshore area. My sources told me the MLA application is still pending approval. If this is true, then why did the Uygongco flour company just go ahead and build the private port? That’s putting the horse ahead of the cart. And that would put PPA officials involved in the grant of a permit to operate (temporary) in deep, deep trouble.

 

 

Double Dragon steps up expansion in 2018

It is the closest to exponential growth in business. At the least, it is phenomenal.

Double Dragon Properties Corp. is stepping up its pace of property development all across the country in 2018 to meet its target of opening 600,000 square meters in leasable space with 24 new CityMalls, Central Hubs (warehousing) and commercial/office space with its Meridian property on Roxas Boulevard. Along with it are new hotel developments carrying the Hotel 101 brand.

This was revealed by Ferdinand “Toto” Sia, President of Double Dragon Properties Corp., during the opening of the 26th CityMall, and the third in Iloilo City, on March 23, 2018 in Pavia, Iloilo.

“Right now, we already have 330,000 square meters in leasable space,” Ferdinand, younger brother of Mang Inasal founder Edgar “Injap” Sia, told this writer.

The City Malls are operated by CityMall Commercial Centers, Inc., a subsidiary of Double Dragon Properties, Inc. Double Dragon owns 64% of CMCCI and 34% is owned by SM Invesments Corp.

Ferdinand said the Central Hub at the Luisita Industrial Park in Tarlac will be Double Dragon’s first venture in industrial leasing that will also spread out across the archipelago. The project will rise on a 6.2-hectare property. The company has also acquired a 3.9-hectare property for an Iloilo Central Hub. Ultimately, Central Hub Industrial Leasing Corp., the Double Dragon subsidiary that will develop these warehousing facilities, will open one facility for every province to provide support for business and industrial growth in the countryside.

But what will perhaps be its biggest leap is the opening of the DD Meridian Park on a 4.75-hectare property in the Bay Area this year. Ferdinand said the DD Meridian Park will be inaugurated on May 7 this year. Already, Double Dragon has moved its corporate headquarters to Meridian, as have the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and 2Go Group.

The opening of CityMall Pavia also signals the emergence of Pavia municipality from a sleepy bedroom community on the outskirts of Iloilo City into a bustling business hub. Situated just on the boundary between Iloilo City and Pavia, the new CityMall will give impetus to the economic development of the LGU. Also set to open in the next two or three months are Robinson’s Pavia and GT Mall Pavia; both are located just a hundred meters from CityMall.

Four years ago, Double Dragon surprised Iloilo when it dared build the 21-story Injap Tower on the Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue (or known locally as the “Iloilo Diversion Road”). This first-ever skyscraper was the first Iloilo building to go higher than six floors. It houses the Hotel 101, a restaurant on the top floor and other amenities. Before this, most businessmen in Iloilo believed skyscrapers were not feasible.

The Injap Tower became the trigger for the upward development of the Iloilo skyline. Right now, the 18 story SM Strata (with its high floor-to-ceiling configuration) is rising a few hundred feet above Injap Tower which is just beside it. SM Strata now dwarfs Injap Tower. Elsewhere, other high-rise buildings in Megaworld and Atria have been completed.

The boldness with which the Sia brothers, and their sister, Marissa, in partnership with Tony Tan Caktiong and his Jollibee group of food companies (Jollibee, Chowking, Mang Inasal and Highlands Coffee) has propelled Double Dragon into a path of phenomenal growth since it went public in 2014. Its first IPO offering was oversubscribed 14X even before the opening bell rang. From P2.00 per share, Double Dragon stocks were traded at P31.30 per share at the close of the Philippine stock market last Friday, March 23, 2018.

On March 2, 2018, Reuters reported that Double Dragon’s fiscal year net income rose 71.8% year-on-year to P2.53 billion.

This can only be described as amazing for Injap and Toto whose first ventures in Iloilo City back in the 1980s were a laundry business, a color photography processing lab and a small hotel (Four Season Hotel in partnership with friends). Injap, the prime mover, was already regarded as “bold” at the time. He was young and aggressive, seeming to know no fear in his pioneering ventures. His laundry business, Mr. Labada, was the first in Iloilo; many people doubted it would last. Now Mr. Labada operates several branches in Iloilo City.

But Injap jumped into the fastlane when he opened Mang Inasal in 2003. Barbecued chicken isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary recipe that held the promise of mass appeal. In Iloilo and Bacolod cities, “chicken inasal” is prepared and served almost the same way, with the difference in the marination. Somehow, Injap concocted what could be described as the “perfect recipe” for “chicken inasal” and built his chain of Mang Inasal stores on this.

And the rest is history.

This property empire that Double Dragon is building will probably be described as “the house that chicken inasal built.”

 

Unfulfilled promises

When property developers sell subdivision lots, condominiums and other real estate property, they would always give out glossy brochures depicting a dream community where one would put his or her money to live and work.

In a mannner of speaking, property developers sell promises, because most of their sales are done even before the first bucket of concrete is poured into a building. Everything is presented from the architect’s perspective, and larger-than-life images of beautiful homes, parks, club houses, wide roads and street lights, swimming pools and other amenities are crammed into a brochure.

More than 15 years ago, this was exactly how Fil-Estate marketed the Puerto Real de Iloilo. It was billed as the most luxurious residential subdivision in Iloilo City, complete with sports and leisure facilities, well-lighted and spacious roads, mini-parks, and most importantly, adequate security to give homeowners a peace of mind.

The development came with a big bang. Fil-Estate was then riding on a property boom, and its name became synonymous with first-class living. There was an impressive kick-off party at the Amigo Terrace Hotel. All the big wigs were there.

True enough, the marketing ploy of Fil-Estate penetrated the consciousness of the moneyed-class in Iloilo City. Its subdivision lots were quickly gobbled up by rich businessmen and professionals. Living there was a stamp of class that many people desired and got. Or at least, so they thought at first.

It didn’t take long before homeowners realized they were duped.

The homeonwers at Puerto Real de Iloilo believed they paid for expensive lots to get facilities and services that would be commensurate with the price of the subdivision lots. The promised first class facilities and amenities never materialized.

Since then, Puerto Real de Iloilo was sold by Fil-Estate to the Global Estates Resorts Inc. (GERI), an affiliate of the Megaworld Corporation. Megaworld is also the developer of the Iloilo Business Park in the old Iloilo airport property and a partner in the Sta. Barbara Heights Subdivision.

A life of luxury and comfort was what the sellers promised the homeowners. For the homeowners, life in Puerto Real during the last 15 years has been like hell, a long struggle to compel the developer to make good on their promises.

What are some of the problems? For one, the club house and its amenities — basketball gym, swimming pool and tennis court — are in a state of disrepair. The roof over the basketball gym is leaking, and the other facilities neglected and badly need repair.

The road network in the posh (only in name, so the homeowners claim) subdivision are poorly maintained. At night, the roads are shrouded in darkness, and residents hardly feel safe about strolling after dinner.

Worse, there are still informal settlers in parts of the subdivision. The developer failed to provide them with relocation sites at the start of the construction. Now these people continue to live in the “pulo” where their shanty houses still stand. Some own work animals like carabaos and keep them in their compound. Puerto is where one can find carabaos loitering about, posing a grave danger to motorists.

A bigger issue is security: with poor families living in parts of the subdivision, the subdivision is having a hard time controlling the entry of people. It is a security nightmare for the homeowners.

For a long time now, the homeowners association has pressured the new management — a Megaworld affiliate — to plug the gaping holes in the contract and turn over the subdivision to them. The homeowners feel they could do a much better job looking after their own security and keeping the community clean.

The response of the Megaworld company has been to stall and delay. No progress has been made in the negotiations to bring the company to honor its commitments in the contract to sell. It continues to ignore the complaints of the homeowners.

To add to the problems of the homeowners, it was recently discovered that GERI owes the Iloilo City government more than P20,000,000 in realty taxes. The homeowners have pestered management about the tax indebtedness to the city. The overdue taxes remain unpaid until now.

The homeowners decided enough was enough. A few weeks ago, the association lodged a complaint before the Housing, Land and Urban Regulatory Board (HLURB) to seek remedial action.

Instead of trying to find ways to meet the homeowners halfway and reach a compromise, GERI retaliated by reducing the number of security guards who man the gates. It’s becoming obvious to them GERI is not repentant about its own inadequacies and downright breach of contract.

(In a statement to The Daily Guardian, Fil Estate on Puerto denied that GERI is involved in the project. This is being disputed by homeowners’ representative who talked with me.)

The message to the homeowners was loud and clear. Megaworld enjoys protection from the powers-that-be in Iloilo City, and would not budge even in the face of an administrative case. That the city government hasn’t taken legal action to enforce the P20 million tax liability is an indication that Megaworld is shielded by a culture of impunity.

This culture of impunity cannot be allowed to exist. The HLURB should strictly enforce contracts to which developers have bound themselves to fulfill. In this case, sanctions should be imposed on GERI and warnings given to other Megaworld affiliates. If HLURB rules and regulations are just scoffed at by developers like Megaworld, then property buyers who invest millions of pesos in the properties offered to them through glossy brochures are vulnerable to lose the value for which they paid for.

It is time government strengthens its capability to protect consumers. After all, a breach of contract is an assault on our legal institutions. Violators of the law such as GERI must be required to pay stiff fines and stripped of their licenses to operate. That is the only way to uphold the rule of law.

Right of way

Can a road-right-of-way on government land — or more precisely a public road — that is part of land acquired by a property developer be closed down and the area used as site for buildings?
This was a question I threw at a municipal trial court judge and two lawyers I regularly meet for bottles of beer the other night.
Their outright answer: “NO!”
Indeed, from my own layman’s understanding. a ROW should be left open even if it was part of a bigger property that was bought by a private company.
This is particularly true when the ROW was a public road for which public funds were spent to pave the same with concrete.
I am wondering what the Housing, Land and Urban Regulatory Board (HLURB) will have to say about this.
Will it mean the developer will have to demolish the structures built on the ROW?

Why the fuel price hike so soon?

Everyday I monitor Bloomberg TV to look at the major business headlines in the Asian region as well as the world stock markets. One of the things I closely watch is the price of oil in the world market. Hence, it surprised me to learn last night that fuel companies will start to increase pump prices again starting today. The local market experienced a significant slide in the prices of diesel and gasoline these past few months, easing the pain on car owners and transportation industry operators. But is that a brief honeymoon for us? There hasn’t been a significant change in the world market prices of oil. So what is the basis for the fuel price hike so soon?