Is Nayong Pilipino lease as casino OK with NEDA?
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 30, 2018 - 12:00am

The big news is that the Nayong Pilipino estate fronting Manila Bay will be turned into a resort casino. A Hong Kong gaming operator is to break ground next week. Licenses reportedly have been issued, for operation by 2022.

The big buzz is if Nayong Pilipino’s lease to a private firm has the requisite consent of NEDA (National Economic Development Authority).

State auditors say there was no public bidding to build-operate-maintain Nayong Pilipino as resort casino at Entertainment City, Parañaque. No land appraisal or invitation for competitive offers was made, contrary to law. There was no Swiss Challenge, which President Rody Duterte prefers in public contracting.

Government-run Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) granted the deal to a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s Landing International Development Ltd. An NPF trustee has sued colleagues for corruption. Rented out long-term at a paltry sum, the 9.57-hectare prime land allegedly will lose P517 million a year.

The Ombudsman is investigating the case. An NPF lawyer has denied wrongdoing. NPF is attached to the Dept. of Tourism and monitored by the Governance Commission for Government Corporations.

The Commission on Audit wanted Nayong Pilipino’s lease to be approved first by NEDA. The NEDA Board, consisting of Cabinet men, vets build-operate-maintain offers to protect state interest and ensure the best deal. The President chairs the Board. Duterte has said he wants no more new casinos.

Last June a COA annual audit stated that NPF failed to submit proof of independent appraisals and published solicitations of alternative offers. Purportedly NPF simply granted the build-operate-maintain deal to Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corp.

The plan initially was a NEDA Public-Private Partnership. NPF withdrew it from the PPP Center without NEDA assent, the COA said. Now Landing is to construct a casino with a “Nayon-Landing” theme park, water park, and movie-based theme park.

A month earlier Maria Fema Duterte, the President’s distant niece, accused eight fellow-trustees of entering into a disadvantageous deal. The 95,724-square-meter estate was leased out for only P150 per square meter, or P172,303,200 a year – for 50 years, renewable for another 25. The going rate in the area is P500 to P600 per square meter. Government will lose P516,909,600 a year, or P25.85 billion in half a century.

Also in May, President Duterte fired two top executives of Aurora Pacific Economic Zone for the same reason. The two had granted 75-year casino-resort franchises. (Trustee Duterte’s rap against the NPF trustees was precipitated by its chairwoman’s refusal to install her as executive director, against the President’s appointment. She had been charged with cyber-libel, that the justice department dismissed.)

The COA audit recommended that NPF pause the contract with Landing until two conditions were met. One, that Landing first secure a casino license from gaming regulator Pagcor. Two, that NEDA clears the build-operate-maintain deal. The latter had to do with the absence of appraisals and competitive offers, as well as the P150-per-square-meter lease rate and 75-year duration.

Last week Landing announced it was given a provisional gaming permit, with a regular one to follow, only for 15 years. Landing must first build the theme parks at its promised $1.5-billion investment, before erecting and running a casino. The casino may open only after Feb. 2022, as Pagcor has a five-year moratorium on new ones at Entertainment City. That was to give the business of four original locators – Solaire, City of Dreams, Okada Manila, and Resorts World – time to mature.

Reports have it that this July the Nayong Pilipino lease was raised 140 percent to P360 a month, and the duration shortened to 25 years.

There is yet no NEDA announcement of prior approval. Without COA’s required appraisal, the basis of the final P360-per-square-meter was unclear. News items put other leases in the area at P600; property purchases hit as high as P235,000 per square meter; lease rates can be calculated from nearby purchase prices.

There is also no word if NPF finally solicited competitive offers, for NEDA to base its vetting and approval. Since Pagcor’s gaming permits require the four original casinos to promote Filipino cultural heritage, they have a foundation for such projects. As a group or individually, they can bid for the Nayong Pilipino theme parks. It is to their advantage to increase people traffic in Entertainment City, and attract tourists to their gaming pits, restaurants, shops, and shows.

One of NPF trustee Duterte’s accusations last May, based on board minutes, was that the chairwoman claimed the resort casino to have “the President’s blessing”. Yet also that month, President Duterte declared he is very much against gambling and thus rejected two new resort casinos in Boracay forestland.

Huge deals with no requisite NEDA approval inevitably land in court. Among those the Supreme Court struck down were the Public Estates Authority-Amari reclamation near Entertainment City and the Manila International Airport Terminal-2 construction.

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Pampangos are proud of their history. A hot topic these days is Andres Bonifacio’s Kapampangan bloodline. The Holy Angel University Center for Kapampangan Studies is to hold a lecture-forum on the topic on Aug. 2, Thursday, 4 p.m., at the Multi-Purpose Hall, San Francisco Javier Bldg., HAU in Angeles City.

In cooperation with the Sigma Kappa Pi Fraternity-Pampanga Alumni Chapter, the lecture is being held in observance of histpry month in August. Kampangan Center director Robbie Tantingco has organized a panel, headed by Prof. Joel Regala, chairman of the HAU Social Science Dpartment and author of the book “In the Blood: The Kapampangan Lineage of Andres Bonifacio”. The event is supported by Jollibee and Magalang town Mayor Malu Paras-Lacson.

Attendees are welcome, aside from student leaders of HAU and the City College of Angeles, and heads of people’s organizations. The activity also is part of the SKP 50th founding anniversary celebration on Sept. 1.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

HOLY ANGEL UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR KAPAMPANGAN STUDIES LANDING INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LTD. NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY NAYONG PILIPINO
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