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P-Noy intervention sought on botched Ayala project

By Danny B. Dangcalan (The Philippine Star) Updated September 20, 2012 12:00 AM

Bacolod City, Philippines – Negrenses are asking the help of President Aquino to ask the Commission on Audit (COA) to explain why it took them more than a year until now to decide whether to approve or disapprove the signed contracts between Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) and the Negros Occidental provincial government on the sale and lease of the 7.7-hectare prime property in Bacolod.

COA’s inaction on the contracts for more than a year prompted ALI to withdraw from the project which would have created thousands of jobs for Negrenses and would have poured in billions of pesos to Negros Occidental, Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. said.

“I hope that the President would intervene on the matter. The withdrawal of ALI is a big setback for Negros Occidental and Bacolod City,” Marañon added.

About 500 businessmen, government officials, workers, students and ordinary folks lit candles in front of the Provincial Capitol Monday night to dramatize their mourning of the loss of multi-billion peso investments as a result of Ayala Land’s pullout of its proposed P6-billion development project.

The gathering was spearheaded by the Hotel Restaurant Association of Negros Occidental (HRANO) and Philippine Constructors Association of Negros (PCAN).

HRANO vice president Nestor Evaristo said they would come up with a manifesto to be sent to President Aquino asking for his help on the matter.

The “mourners” carried placards that read “Ayala Land Please Don’t Leave.” They said that it seems Negros Occidental had to celebrate “All Souls’ Day” early.

“The gathering shows that Negrenses are angry at COA. It blocks the progress for Negros,” Marañon said.

The governor expressed hope that the gathering Monday night would snowball and spark more mass actions demanding for COA’s approval of the project and for Ayala Land to reconsider its decision.

When asked if he is still hoping that things would turn around in favor of Negros, the governor said, “I’m hoping against hope that Ayala will change its decision.”

Marañon added that several private citizens in Negros are planning to file impeachment complaints against COA commissioners. He said under the law, COA should act on the proposed contracts within six months upon submission, but the Capitol-ALI deal had been pending at COA for 14 months already.

 The governor blames “politicking” as the cause of delay in the COA. “Definitely, somebody is trying to block the COA approval of the project,” he stressed.

Reports said the husband of Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan, chairperson of COA, is giving legal services to Henry Sy and his family who owns SM Prime Holdings, the rival bidder to the said property and is questioning in court the contract granted to Ayala.

Tan, however, had inhibited from hearing the case.

The governor earlier said that as a partner in government service, COA should heed the call of the people of Bacolod and Negros Occidental, represented by their government officials and private sectors, who support the project and believe that it could be an instrument for development and progress.

Evaristo and PCAN president Danny Yee said the gathering was spontaneous and apolitical, as they only wanted to air their disgust and disappointment over the loss of Ayala Land’s investments in Negros that would have brought billions of pesos into the local economy and created thousands of jobs.

 Dubbed the Capitol Civic Center, the project is designed to be an integrated mixed-used civic and commercial district and envisioned to be the growth center of Negros Occidental.

Aside from the P6-billion investment, the provincial government also loses at least P3.5 billion from the sale and lease of the 7.7-hectare property.

Both the Deed of Conditional Sale and the Contract of Lease was awarded by the provincial government to Ayala Land last July 20, 2011 and submitted thereafter to COA for approval, but until now the commission has no decision on the matter.

Emilio Tumbocon, Ayala Land senior vice president and group head for the Visayas-Mindanao and Superblock Projects, use a letter to Marañon last Sept. 13, “After more than a year since the property was awarded to Ayala Land for development, we regret that we are unable to pursue the project on account of the delays and legal disputes that continue to threaten its implementation, through no fault of Ayala Land.”

“In light of this, and considering that the provincial government was unable to fulfill its obligation to deliver the property to us under the terms of the agreement, we are open to discussing with you a mutual disengagement from the project,” Tumbocon wrote further.

“It’s a very sad day for Negros Occidental and Bacolod… It’s a big, big loss to our people. Negros lost a golden opportunity of a P6-billion investment and thousands of job opportunities,” Marañon said.

Evaristo said part of Ayala Land’s development is the construction of a convention center that can house at least 3,000 guests. “We in the hotel and restaurant industries are waiting for the establishment of a convention center which is a part of the plan of Ayala. Apparently, it will never happen again. A convention center is what we need here for us to boost our tourism industry,” he said.

But now that Ayala has recalled the project, it might take years again for big investors to build a convention center in Bacolod.

“The Commission on Audit should be blamed for this. Why did they sit on it for so long? At least they should have an explanation. They have been hanging the provincial government for a long time already,” architect Ramiro Garcia said.

Frank Carbon, president of the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the business community “mourns” Ayala’s withdrawal from the project. “We will mourn for this because that investment, if pushed through, could have created a thousand jobs, direct and indirect … We need more jobs here,” he said.

 Meanwhile, Marañon said he would immediately create a committee to re-study the 7.7-hectare property, including the possibility of re-bidding it.

Patrick Vince Bayhon, legal counsel for SM Prime Holdings, said they would study how Ayala Land’s withdrawal of its development plan would affect their pending case against the Negros Occidental provincial government.

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