Blow to one mall, bonanza to another
How lucky is Ayala Corp. It seems that like Lola in that long-ago song, whatever it wants it gets. But is it just luck or very powerful persuasive powers that can bend laws, ethics, and the will power of government officials?
Take the case of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension to Bacoor, Cavite. MRT 3 was planned to be way above ground on Edsa all the way from North Avenue to Baclaran. Then Ayala joined the consortium that was to build the overhead rail tracks for MRT 3, and suddenly the tracks went underground when they reached that part of Edsa in Makati where Ayala’s exclusive villages are located. Why? So the rich residents of these villages will not be disturbed by the passing MRT trains.
The northern end of the MRT 3 line was at a vast open space on North Avenue. It was supposed to be the depot and maintenance yard of MRT 3. It is now the site of the Trinoma shopping mall. Who owns Trinoma? Ayala.
MRT 7, which will run along Commonwealth Avenue from San Jose del Monte in Bulacan to North Avenue in Quezon City, will have its station at North Edsa, beside the SM City shopping mall. This station was originally planned to be the common station of three lines: MRT 7, MRT 3 from Baclaran, and LRT 1 from Monumento. The plan was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), and a memorandum of agreement was signed between the LRT Authority and SM Prime Holdings. The latter paid the government P200 million as financial assistance for the construction of the common station.
A failed auction was declared in August last year after Ayala dropped out of its partnership with Metro Pacific Investments Corp.
Last Jan. 17, Ayala rejoined Metro Pacific to form the Light Rail Manila Consortium. Last May 28, another bidding was held for the LRT extension to Cavite, and the project was awarded to the Ayala-Metro Pacific consortium. And suddenly, the common station at North Edsa was relocated to Trinoma on North Avenue, in violation of the Neda-approved memorandum of agreement between the LRTA and SM Prime Holdings.
It is no secret that a rail station located at a shopping mall gives the latter a huge advantage. Riders will pass through and shop at the mall, as they do now at Araneta Center in Cubao and Shangri-La mall on Shaw Boulevard, where there are light rail stations.
Therefore, relocating the common station from North Edsa to Trinoma is a blow to SM and a bonanza to Trinoma. Note that all or at least 70 percent of the cost of construction of the common station at Trinoma will be shouldered by the Department of Transportation and Communications and the LRTA. In other words, by the taxpayers. And who will be the biggest beneficiary? Trinoma. Who owns Trinoma? Ayala.
The construction and development of the North Edsa common station had nothing to do with the LRT 1 Cavite extension. Out of nowhere, it was inserted in the bidding rules by the DOTC.
In the invitation to bid for the LRT extension published in the broadsheets on June 4 and 5, 2012, there was no mention that the winner can undertake the construction of the common station at North Edsa.
Then on Jan. 13, 2014, the DOTC announced in the second prebid conference that the Cavite line bidding will now include the construction, operation and maintenance, as well as the financial contribution of the government for the common station.
I emphasize that the common station has nothing to do with the Cavite extension line as it ends in Baclaran, very far from North Avenue. What has a common station in Quezon City to do with a line from Cavite to Baclaran? Is it not obvious that it was inserted to favor Ayala, which owns Trinoma where the common station will be located?
Interviewed on television, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya said the insertion was at the “insistence of the bidders.” Who are the bidders? Ayala and Metro Pacific. How does Ayala do it? What persuasive powers does it have?
Apart from the legal and ethical considerations, a common station at Trinoma will pose inconveniences to MRT-LRT passengers. Because the western station of MRT 7 from Bulacan will be located, per the contract, at North Edsa, beside SM City, it would be inconvenient to passengers who want to transfer to MRT 3 going to Baclaran or to LRT 1 going to Monumento. They would have to walk from the station at SM City to the station at Trinoma.
A common station should allow passengers to transfer from one train to another without difficulty. That would be achieved if it is located at North Edsa. There is enough space for all three trains to come and go at any time.
What’s more, there is enough space at the back for a depot and maintenance yard. But that is far away from Ayala’s Trinoma. And apparently, what Ayala wants Ayala gets.
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