POSTSCRIPT / October 19, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Flip-flop on CALAX could damage PPP

INVESTORS WATCHING: The business community is understandably concerned over the apparent indecision of the administration in addressing major infrastructure project issues.

Uncertainty could dampen enthusiasm for the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program that President Noynoy Aquino bannered in his recent trip to Europe. His sales pitch promoted perceptions that the PPP is a reliable channel for foreign direct investments.

Recent PPP developments, however, indicate that investors may be up for serious disappointment. A reported looming Palace move to cancel the PPP project for the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) has further fed the uncertainty.

The bidding was won by the consortium formed by the Ayala and Aboitiz groups. The Palace, however, held off the awarding of the contract after a long period of indecision reportedly triggered by pressure from disqualified bidder San Miguel group.

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NEGATIVE IMPACT: There was earlier speculation that the Palace would rebid the project. Now the scuttlebutt is that the Palace might just cancel the project and announce that the government would build the CALAX by itself.

A policy flip-flop on the CALAX could impact negatively not just on PPP but also on the overall climate on investments and infrastructure program. It would draw attention to the weaknesses of the PPP program that rules and processes could change in the middle of the game.

To motorists and commuters clamoring for solutions to transportation woes, cancelling the CALAX signals that such solutions are not coming. Everyone knows that when government handles a major infrastructure, delays, corruption and inferior quality spoil it.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya himself has admitted that government is not good at managing infrastructure and utilities, which is why the participation of the private sector is essential.

Cancellation of the CALAX will underscore two realities: (1) in this country, perfected contracts are not sacred, and (2) the government has little regard for the built-in processes meant to insulate biddings and awards from undue external pressure.

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FOCUS: In my youthful peregrinations, Concepcion town in Tarlac used to be just one of those out-of-the way places hardly noticed when I drove up to Baguio via MacArthur Highway. That was before the government built SCTEx and TPLEx to link NLEx and Manila to Northern Luzon.

Concepcion suddenly became one of emotional focus in 1983, when then Sen. Ninoy Aquino was murdered in public view by a military squad of the Marcos regime. The smell of gunpowder mixed with the putrid air of arrogance affected even journalists trying hard to be balanced.

In my off hours, I would take time to drive some of our reporters to the Aquino ancestral home in Concepcion to gain context and take my twin grade school sons to Times St. in Quezon City to afford them their last view of their ninong who was gunned down carrying a message of peace.

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HUMMING HUB: Last Friday, we visited Concepcion again with the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) on invitation of Mayor Andy Lacson. He wanted to show how the largely agricultural town has been transformed into a bustling commercial and industrial hub.

Having learned the political ropes as a Sangguniang Kabataan chairman and a three-term vice mayor, Lacson — as soon as he became mayor in 2013 – rolled out the welcome carpet to big local and foreign businesses and industries.

The move immediately paid off. In the CAMI forum in the municipio, Lacson ticked off several enterprises that have set up shop or firmed up plans to do business in the town of 139,832 residents in 45 barangays covering 246,000 square kilometers of mostly agricultural land.

The CAMI forum is sponsored every week by the Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

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EARLY BIRDS: Among the early birds are Bounty Farms, which set up an automated plant to process 60,000 heads of chicken for export to overseas markets, including Japan, and to supply the needs of top local fast-food enterprises.

Lacson disclosed that two locators at the nearby Clark Freeport – where he had served as a coordinator in the CDC advisory council — have decided to move to Concepcion.

One of these outfits is the energy firm Enfinity Solar, which has leased a 50-hectare site for a solar power farm with a start-up budget of P60 million.

Another Clark locator moving to Concepcion is Omni Aviation School, which has leased 100 hectare for its hangars for training light planes and other facilities.

The two firms decided to move because of land limitation at Clark, coupled with the expanding operation of the Clark International Airport. Omni training planes may interfere with the Clark commercial air traffic.

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PRIORITIES: Lacson (NPC, 37 years old), said his priority is to promote Concepcion as a hub for food processors, an outlet for its main produce of rice, corn and sugar, and as site for corporate farming, banking and finance, and trading.

He is mounting this year a computerized drone chopper security system to initially cover the commercial district. The mayor wants to establish what he described as the country’s first modern IT-aided police station.

Also set to start next year is the building of a P250-million 100-bed district hospital in cooperation with the Department of Health and the assistance of Sen. Bam Aquino, President Aquino’s cousin.

But Lacson relies mostly on the town’s P50 million annual revenue, which he expects to jump substantially in the next two years, and its share in internal revenue allotments.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 19, 2014)

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