POSTSCRIPT / May 26, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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47th SM mall caught in Taguig-BCDA feud

SM AURA OPENS: If you have time today, drive over to Fort Bonifacio and visit SM Prime Holdings’ latest (47th) and most luxurious mall in the country, the SM Aura Premier, which finally opened its doors to the public last Friday.

We won’t tell you where it is at the Fort, because you cannot miss it as you come out on McKinley Road from Forbes Park. On this hot summer day, your eyes will be arrested by its refreshing façade that reminds one of a waterfall cascading from something like 30 floors of the SM tower.

We said “finally opened” because for a while there, we thought the Bases Conversion Development Authority would succeed in blocking the P3.5-billion high-end SM project and its eventual opening.

The BCDA, former owner of Fort Bonifacio, has been engaged in a running legal battle with the Taguig City government to which that section of the old camp was conveyed without restrictions by the BCDA when the area was privatized in 2008.

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UPSCALE SHOPS: Aside from the usual mall, the mixed-use SM Aura Premier houses recreational facilities, a convention center and a tower building for both private and government offices.

It boasts of a 5,590-square-meter retail space much of which has been snatched up by shops offering high-end brands, a departure from the usual shops catering to middle- to low-income retailers in its other malls. A few of the shops are still undergoing finishing touches, but it is go for the entire mall.

The global brands that will locate their first Philippine stores in SM Aura include Suiteblanco, Stefanel, Minelli, TM Lewin, J. Lindberg, B.B. Dakota and River Island for fashion.

Incidentally, when the SM Aura opened to the VIP crowd last May 16, “Sex and the City” star and Hollywood A-lister Sarah Jessica Parker graced the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The next day, the doors were flung open to the general public.

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BCDA MOVE: We are puzzled by the BCDA’s attempt to block the SM project when the three-hectare land (33,975 square meters) on which it sits is no longer owned by BCDA but by Taguig, to which it was conveyed as evidenced by a clean title with no liens or restrictions.

Besides it is bad policy to harass or even shoot down an ongoing PPP (Public-Private Partnership) project when the government is hard-pressed to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

For so long now, the investment sector has been hobbled by the bad habit of some government managers to change the rules in the middle of the game.

The SM group came in good faith, after it was granted unfettered use of the area upon winning a public bidding conducted by the legal owner (Taguig).

There is neither reason nor fairness for BCDA to punish an innocent third-party developer by holding SM hostage in its quarrel with Taguig.

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ROW OVER ROAD: Even when the mall was ready for launching, the BCDA made a last-ditch bid to block it by forbidding the mall developer from upgrading a portion of the McKinley Parkway leading to Forbes and providing access to SM Aura.

But since Taguig, the legal owner of the land leased to SM, has allowed the road work, the BCDA should stand aside. If it persists, BCDA could go to court for a restraining order, but until this writing it has not done so.

It was the Taguig government, in fact, that was forced to ask the court — and it succeeded — to stop BCDA and its armed personnel from interfering with the parkway work. Incidentally, the road upgrading is being paid for by SM although the parkway is a public road.

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CLEAN TITLE: Explaining its actuations, BCDA invoked RA 7227, as amended, requiring “approximately 40 hectares of land in Fort Bonifacio, Phase I, shall be retained as national government and local government centers, sports facilities and parks.”

But according to the Taguig city government, the law does not confine the 40 hectare retention requirement to a particular area. It pointed out that the Deed of Conveyance of the land titles does not bear any restrictions (no liens or encumbrances) at all.

Later, BCDA tried asserting control over the parkway leading to SM Aura, saying it was within its property on the basis of the territorial boundary of the access road.

Taguig countered that under the Local Government Code and the city’s zoning ordinance, as amended, the local government has jurisdiction over all roads within the city, whether publicly or privately owned. This could be the reason why Taguig was able to secure a TRO.

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CROSSFIRE: As pointed out by Cora Guidote, vice president of SM Prime’s parent firm SM Investments Corp., the company is leasing the area for 20-30 years with the Taguig city government, not with BCDA. SM was just caught in the crossfire.

She said: “This is an issue between Taguig and BCDA. The BCDA has to deal with the local government. How can we deal with them when we’re just a third party?”

Regarding the detail on the putting up of a local government center, we note that the SM mall at the Fort has a civic center and provisions for government offices and public amenities.

Trivia: Henry Sy, SM’s guiding light, has invaded the Chinese mainland, where SM Prime Holdings now operates five malls.

In the Philippines, the SM City on North Ave. in Quezon City has the biggest floor space among the 47 local SM malls. The malls reporting the biggest gross sales are SM City-North and SM MegaMall in Mandaluyong City.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 26, 2013)

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