There is an offer from a Korean consortium to build a $4-billion financial center in Manila’s Port Area, with a 63-story tower, the tallest in the Philippines. While still under construction, which is expected to take four to five years, it will need thousands of construction workers, thus easing the unemployment crisis. When finished, it will need 150,000 more employees in its various offices.
Everyone thinks it is a good project, including President Aquino. The trouble is the government land where it is to be built, Port Area, is controlled by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), which is blocking the project. After many meetings with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and the heads of several government agencies, during which the architectural, engineering and investment plans were presented, everyone, including the PPA, said it was a good idea. But the PPA subsequently hemmed and hawed and later said it had other plans for the property. It didn’t show those plans, however.
These facts were revealed by Mayor Lim at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday, where he was the principal guest. The other guests were former Rep. Risa Hontiveros, now a Team PNoy senatorial candidate, and Senior Supt. Robert Po, deputy operations chief of the Manila Police District (MPD), and Judge Rodolfo Pallatao, law dean of the city-owned Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM).
Now what is the problem with the PPA? Here is a project that would be good not only for itself and the city of Manila but also for the whole Philippines. Why is the PPA blocking it? It has other plans for the property, it said. What plans? It doesn’t say.
By itself, the PPA cannot hope to build in a thousand years the financial center that the Korean consortium is offering to construct with its own money. No loans from Philippine banks. The consortium is even offering to deposit in advance the $4-billion investment in Philippine banks because the interest rates being paid by banks in Korea are very low. Think of what that $4 billion will do to our economy and the jobs the project will create for our workers.
The President, accompanied by Cabinet members and Filipino businessmen, travel all over the world (at enormous cost to Filipino taxpayers) to entice foreigners to invest in the Philippines. Usually, they come home with a few hundred million dollars worth of promised investments that usually take many years to materialize. But here is an offer of $4 billion invested immediately in the Philippines, and everyone in government is gung ho for it except, mysteriously, an agency like the PPA that unfortunately controls the property.
The project will perk up Manila, the Pearl of the Orient Seas which, because most of its buildings are old, is decaying. Why are gleaming high-rise condominiums and office buildings going up all over Metro Manila but not in Manila? Because, Mayor Lim discovered, there is an old Manila ordinance limiting the height of buildings in the city to only nine stories. Developers told Lim that, considering the price of land in Manila, they would lose money if they construct only 9-story buildings. They need to construct tall buildings to earn a profit, they said.
What does the National Building Code say? the mayor asked. What is the height limit?
Answer: No limit.
All right, then, Mayor Lim said, follow the National Building Code, not the Manila ordinance which he would have repealed anyway.
As a result of this decision, a number of high-rise buildings are sprouting all over Manila. One of the tallest will rise in Binondo.
Going back to the proposed financial center, maybe President Aquino should talk with PPA officials and find out what’s on their minds. The South Harbor will not be touched. On the contrary, it will be enhanced, improved, developed and beautified. And it will double, triple, or even quadruple the income of the PPA.
* * *
On other fronts, Mayor Lim boasted that Manila is the only city in the Philippines with six public hospitals, one for each of the six districts and owned and operated by the city. These hospitals provide free hospitalization, treatment, and medicines for the city’s indigent patients.
Manila also has two universities, the PLM and City College, more than 300 high schools and 700 elementary schools. All of them provide free education to residents. There is no classroom shortage in Manila, Lim said. And do you know that PLM graduates top the nursing examinations and have a 90-percent passing rate in government board examinations?
On the police front, do you know that almost a third of the entire Manila force is used every single day just to watch and contain the many marches and demonstrations of activists in the city? Almost daily, there are demonstrations in front of the US Embassy, Department of Justice and Supreme Court, on Mendiola, at Plaza Bonifacio, during demolition operations at squatter areas, etc., Senior Superintendent Po said. MPD members have to be there to make sure the demonstrations do not deteriorate into a riot.
Thus, the MPD is left with precious little manpower for crime prevention, detection and solution, Po said. And although the Metro Manila Development Authority helps in traffic enforcement, the bulk of the work is still left with the MPD.
* * *
For her part, Risa Hontiveros said that if she is elected senator (she finished 13th, only one rank outside the winning circle, in the last senatorial elections), her advocacy would be women and health. She said she would also work for the abolition of the pork barrel, one of the root causes of corruption. For this reason, I urge voters to vote for her in May.