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Casino rises soon near US embassy

POSTSCRIPT (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2016 - 12:00am

IF PLANS do not miscarry, the United States embassy on Roxas Blvd. facing historic Manila Bay will soon find itself sitting just a stone’s throw away from a new casino of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

There is frenzied construction activity in the iconic Army Navy Club complex at the nearby corner of T. M. Kalaw Ave. for a still unnamed five-star hotel – to sit beside a casino being built amid a spirited debate in social media and elsewhere over its controversial presence.

Hewing close to the original 1900s design by American architect William Parsons, developer Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. is pulling all stops to restore and develop the ANC location into a world-class heritage boutique-style hotel.

Its developer says the facility will have five-star accommodations, upscale dining, as well as wellness and fitness centers. Its casino neighbor in the ANC site will be an entirely separate operation of another firm and fenced off.

PAGCOR is reportedly transferring to the new site by yearend its Casino Filipino from the aging Manila Pavilion a few blocks away. Casino developer Vanderwood Management Corp. has won a 15-year contract with PAGCOR for the lease of casino space behind the Army Navy Club.

The bitter parting of ways between PAGCOR and Manila Pavilion has triggered a court battle. There is a side barrage of negative publicity not only against Vanderwood but also Oceanville, the developer-restorer of the Army Navy Club.

Both the hotel and the casino, although separate entities, are in the same ANC site owned by the City of Manila. City Hall has leased the entire ANC complex to Oceanville, which in turn subleased 6,500 sqm. of the lot (or half of the area) to Vanderwood.

Only the Museo Pambata, a library-museum for children on Roxas Blvd., stands between the casino building and the US embassy.

On comments that there is a legal prohibition against a casino being located beside the Museo Pambata, some lawyers point out that the museum is neither a school, church or hospital. They add that the law prohibiting the establishment of night clubs, cockpits and the like within 50 meters of such protected institutions does not apply.

That question is for the court to decide when action is brought against the casino.

As early as 2014, PAGCOR started to look for another casino site in anticipation of the impending expiration by end-2015 of its lease with Manila Pavilion. Aside from seeking competitive rates, PAGCOR was looking for a better site to compete with the giant, gleaming casinos in Entertainment City in the reclaimed bay area. Only Vanderwood made an offer and eventually won the contract.

But Manila Mayor Erap Estrada has said that he has not issued a permit to Vanderwood to operate a casino at the ANC premises. He instructed city secretary and legal officer Edward Serapio to look into possible violations in the leasing of the site.

“Pagcor is not under us. We did not give them permit to operate a casino in the area. If there is a violation, we will not issue a permit,” Estrada told PhilSTAR reporter Jose Rodel Clapano.

• DPWH Region-III contract assailed

PART of the work of Secretary Mark Villar is continuing the purge initiated by his predecessor Rogelio Singson of crooks in the Department of Public Works and Highways, notably by curbing rigged bidding, blacklisting unscrupulous contractors and firing corrupt DPWH personnel.

Villar might want to check on a P44-million project in Region III bid out last April, according to insiders, as: Contract ID No. 16C00052-CY2016 – Annual operation and maintenance of traffic signal facilities in 56 intersections along Manila North Road Bulacan to Tarlac section and Jose Abad Santos, Guagua and Lubao Pampanga section.

The invitation to bid (ITB) was posted on the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGeps) on March 29, 2016. On March 31, 2016, one Arthur Q. Santos, head of the bidding and award committee of DPWH Region III, also placed an ITB advertisement in The Manila Times, and made the official bid documents available at the DPWH Region-III Office for bidders to buy.

The two bidding notices versus the official bid documents show a glaring discrepancy. While the PhilGeps and newspaper ads said that the contract was for “civil works” for a “construction project,” the bid documents state that the contract was for “delivery of goods and services.”

Only three contractors showed interest to bid. Many others were prevented from bidding because civil works and construction projects require a Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board license and a DPWH Contractor Registration Certificate – although the delivery of goods and services does not require PCAB license and registration certificate.

Some insiders said that RA 9184 was also violated when DPWH Region-III specified in the bid documents the brand names (Aldridge traffic controllers and Swarco LED modules) of goods and equipment to be used.

Because of the brands reference, one of the three bidders decided not to join the bidding. The exclusive distributor of Aldridge who is also the distributor of Swarco reportedly won the bidding, as expected.

Rigging biddings is an old trick that the old dogs at the DPWH do not seem to unlearn.

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ADVISORY: To access Postscript archives, go to www.manilamail.com (if necessary, copy/paste the url on your browser’s address bar). Follow us on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email feedback to fdp333@yahoo.com

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