When rivals cooperate
IN THE local corporate scene, few business leaders can match the rivalry—and sometimes, outright antagonism—between tycoons Ramon S. Ang and Manuel V. Pangilinan.
In their respective efforts to expand the country’s biggest conglomerate (San Miguel Corp.) and the country’s largest telecommunications empire (the PLDT Group), the two gentlemen have been tenacious competitors over the last decade.
This rivalry became even more pronounced in the last six years, when the Aquino administration unveiled the landmark public-private partnership (PPP) program, which was marketed to the private sector as a corporate gold rush: Companies that would sink in billion-peso investments in infrastructure projects would be rewarded with handsome financial returns.
And plunge into this PPP scheme the two conglomerates did. But their infrastructure projects have suffered frustrating bureaucratic and policy delays at the hands of the outgoing administration. After six years, they appear to have ended up with a mixed bag of results that left many wondering whether it was worth all the effort to outdo each other.
The good news is that Ang and Pangilinan seem to have discovered the virtue of cooperating with each other (in addition to the value of competing against each other). The latest pronouncement from the SMC side is that it is in talks with the PLDT Group for a possible joint undertaking to build a new—and sorely needed—international airport, possibly on reclaimed land along Manila Bay. And from all indications on the PLDT side, the talks are being taken seriously and will likely lead to other areas of cooperation between the corporate behemoths.
If the talks crystallize around the existing SMC proposal (which was all but ignored by the Aquino administration), the Filipino people will soon enjoy a $10-billion aviation facility with four runways that can accommodate all the flights local and international airlines want to operate in or out of Manila. To be built on an estimated 1,600 hectares of reclaimed land, such an airport would be able to accommodate up to 250 aircraft movements in an hour, dwarfing the 40-aircraft-movements-per-hour capacity of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. That would be enough capacity to meet the country’s growing international aviation requirements for the next half century, at least.
Regarding the environmental debate surrounding the issue of land reclamation, what do the international airports of Hong Kong, Seoul, Osaka, Nagoya, Macau and Doha have in common? All these First World aviation hubs were built wholly or partially on reclaimed land, while managing the adverse effects on the surrounding marine environments.
In the case of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok, two mountains on two adjacent islands were leveled, and the waterways between those islands filled with earth to come up with what is now one of the best airports in the world, again while limiting the impact on the area’s diverse and fragile ecosystem. It goes to show that reclaiming land to build large-scale infrastructure projects can be done in a way that mitigates the project’s environmental impact.
The talks between SMC and PLDT for the airport project are likely to open avenues for further cooperation between them. It may even set a trend for the other business conglomerates owned by the country’s wealthiest families to start cooperating in order to build key infrastructure—roadways, ports, mass transport systems, in addition to other international airports—that the Philippines needs to sustain its economic growth.
After all, the taipans have jostled for greater economic benefits during the last six years, with precious little to show for it (sometimes to the detriment of the public, while the administration sat on its hands, hesitant to use its political capital to break the deadlock).
Indeed, competition in business is good. But where the benefits of competition are limited, perhaps cooperation is a better alternative. Anyway, the ultimate goal is the same: to use the massive resources at the disposal of the rich not only to enhance their own wealth but to improve the lives of the Filipino people as well.