Paradise lost for APEC

SPYBITS - The Philippine Star

DOHA, Qatar — We received information that more than one year ago, businessman Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin had offered to APEC organizers the Balesin Island Resort as venue for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting. Located southeast of Polillo in Quezon province, the 500-hectare exclusive Balesin resort is just 20 minutes away from Manila by plane, with over 400 villas that could have easily accommodated the heads of state with their entourage including their security detail.

In fact, former US Ambassador Harry Thomas flew to Balesin to check out the island and see if it would be suitable for his president. His reaction: “This would be great for President Obama who loves the beach, coming from Hawaii himself!” Former AFP chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who joined Ambassador Thomas for the Balesin, visit couldn’t agree more especially in terms of securing the island for the 21 heads of state. Everyone who had visited the place found the white sand beaches, the pristine waters, the architecture in the seven themed villages plus the numerous dining facilities totally world class, seeing it as a tropical haven that was totally impressive and eco-friendly.

I’m told Bobby Ongpin was even willing to construct additional temporary facilities that would have 3,000 rooms to accommodate additional staff/delegation members. Bobby was also willing to go to great lengths for APEC, even offering to stay away for the duration of the APEC meeting to show he had no other motivation but love of country – but as expected – his offer was immediately turned down because of his political affiliations.

It was definitely paradise lost for APEC – all because of stupid politics.

Exploring trade initiatives with Qatar

Last year, we had the opportunity to meet with several business representatives as well as officials of Qatar’s Department of International Cooperation and Trade Agreements from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, and it was apparent that there was a high level of interest in renewing trade ties with the Philippines. Not surprising, considering about 300,000 overseas Filipino workers are in Qatar and the Qatari government has been looking favorably at the Philippines as an investment destination in Southeast Asia.

It was also a year ago when we conceptualized the Philippines-Qatar Trade Initiative or Phl-Qat and organized a steering committee to mobilize a delegation of select businessmen from the Philippines to visit Doha upon the invitation of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce. Organizing the delegation took a while, but as noted by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, we are finally making headway in “exploring partnership possibilities between Philippine and Qatari business enterprises” via a private sector initiative that complements our government’s bid to strengthen economic and trade relations between the two countries.

Qatar may be tiny in size with about 2.4 million residents, but it happens to be the world’s richest nation with a GDP of $200 billion and a GDP per capita of $105,091 (as of 2013), according to the International Monetary Fund with data compiled by the Global Finance Magazine. 

Our delegation – composed of business executives from various sectors that include real estate, agriculture, IT, terminal services, hospitality and tourism, construction and mining, among many others — is the first ever private sector-led trade mission to Qatar, and we are hopeful our initiative will pave the way for a stronger partnership and promote the Philippines as a viable destination for our Qatari counterparts.

Our Philippine ambassador to Qatar Wilfredo Santos noted our mission, so far, is the “biggest ever trade (mission) to Qatar” which is very timely as the Gulf state is diversifying away from oil and gas and pursuing long-term investment plans.

We’re optimistic this mission will be the catalyst that would elevate the level of relations between the Philippines and Qatar not only in the area of trade and commerce, but also in terms of cultural exchanges.

Qatar plans ahead for World Cup 2022

It’s still a good seven years before the kick off of the 2022 World Cup in Doha, but the government of Qatar is pulling out all the stops to prepare for the world’s second largest sporting event, with plans to build nine new stadiums and renovate three existing ones. The job of overseeing the construction of these stadiums – with the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Al Daayen to be the most iconic as its name suggests, with a projected capacity of 86,000 (as shown in an artist’s rendering) – falls on the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) which installed digital countdown clocks to watch the deadline.

The stadiums will be completed by 2022 according to the SCDL, with five to be completed ahead by 2016. Supporting infrastructures are also being readied in anticipation of the influx of visitors for the mammoth sporting event. For instance, the Doha Metro, projected to be among the world’s most advanced rail transit systems with phase one of the project targeted for completion by 2019. Hotels are also being built to comply with FIFA’s requirement of at least 60,000 rooms, with Qatar promising 100,000 rooms by 2022.

Sectors involved are working feverishly to make sure all requirements are in place for the World Cup – from transportation to accommodations to water and electricity, plus the technology for broadcasting the event with special attention also being given to other platforms that will allow football fans to engage with all the action. Obviously, no detail is too small for the organizers.

It is impressive to see the kind of preparations made for an event that is still seven years away. Even before the visitors get on a plane to Doha, the organizers already want visitors to have a positive experience from their arrival at Hamad airport, to traveling to hotels and to the stadiums to watch the matches. 


The forward thinking Qatari government is leaving no stone unturned to achieve one goal: to stage “the best World Cup ever.”


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