Duterte never OK’d Nayong Pilipino lease
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - August 8, 2018 - 12:00am

If they say a project has presidential clearance, it doesn’t. That’s the lesson to be learned from the firing of the entire board of Nayong Pilipino. The government firm had leased out its 9.6-hectare Manila Bay-front estate to a Hong Kong casino operator. The price was but a fraction of market rates, yet duration was for 75 years. No land appraisal had been made, competitive offers solicited, or NEDA approval secured. The board minutes simply stated that the deal “has the President’s blessing.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies were rushed yesterday. As the Nayong Pilipino chairwoman was feting executives of Hong Kong-listed Landing International Development Ltd., Malacañang announced her sacking.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque couldn’t give details when he met Palace reporters. He had just talked to President Rody Duterte, who was very exasperated with corruption. The Nayong Pilipino deal was “grossly disadvantageous,” Roque quoted Duterte as saying about the 75 years -- “beyond everyone’s lifetime.” All board trustees and managers were dismissed, the President conveyed; lease cancellation was to follow.

The deal broke basic rules, going by state auditors’ findings last June. Nayong Pilipino had granted Landing a build-lease-manage contract for a resort casino by mere negotiation. The lease initially was set at P150 per square meter, without adjacent property appraisals or invitations for alternative offers. It was withdrawn from open bidding as Public-Private Partnership, without consent of the National Economic Development Authority. Consisting of Cabinet men and chaired by the President, NEDA must ensure the best deals for the public interest. (See Gotcha, 30 July 2018: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2018/07/30/1837975/nayong-pilipino-lease-casino-ok-neda)

A distant niece of Duterte, whom the Nayong Pilipino chairwoman barred entry to the board, had exposed the mess in May. The build-lease-management was for 50 years, extendible by another 25. Discovering adjacent leases to be P500 per square meter, she said government would lose P517 million a year, or P25.85 billion in half a century. She charged the trustees with graft before the Ombudsman, for junketing all-expenses-paid to Landing’s resort-casino in Jeju, Korea. Broadcasters talk of an accidental in-flight spill of wads of dollars from the private jet’s bin.

The deal also defied Duterte’s repeated pronouncements that May. One, he had fired two top officials of Aurora Pacific Economic Freeport for granting 70-year casino licenses. Two, he was very much against gambling, so had cancelled two casino franchises in Boracay. Three, he prefers public Swiss Challenges in government contracting.

Last July, Landing publicized having gotten a 15-year casino permit, after it cured the build-lease-manage deal. Supposedly the President had okayed a higher P350-per-square-meter lease and shorter 25-year term – but still without proper appraisals and competitive bids.

A month later yesterday Duterte’s spokesman stated the contrary.

*      *      *

No, despite their misery, Filipinos will never revolt against their misrulers. They find them so entertaining.

Last July 23 people were drowning in floods when Congress put up a comedy skit on national television. With magistrates, bureaucrats, and foreign diplomats as live audience, an ex-President-turned-congresswoman deposed her former transport minister as Speaker. The latter was at the time welcoming the President at the Batasan helipad, for the supposedly solemn State of the Nation Address. Inside the plenary hall the microphone was turned off as the former was taking her oath as new Speaker. She had to cup her mouth with both hands, silent videos of which became viral memes on what she could have been yelling.

Among the funniest was one captioned, “When I say ‘Hello,’ everyone shout ‘Garci’.” It recalls an equally hilarious post-election of a plunderous Presidency. Filipinos laughed so hard that it hurt, watching exposé after exposé of $200-million “tong-pats” (overprice) on $129-million works, and original proponents being ordered to “back off.”

The Speakership comedy was followed by theater of the absurd – as flood survivors were being hospitalized for lethal leptospirosis. Four congressional factions vied for the Minority Leadership. To resolve it, Congress employed the laughably most idiotic solution: it let the Majority decide who the Minority should be.

Last weekend spread – with matching critiques – an info-video on federalism, using “pepe” and “dede” to explain the complex idea. “Pepe” is slang for vagina and “dede” for breast. People are reeling from rising consumer prices, and economists forecast the administration’s switch to federal government to lead to Argentina-Brazil-Mexico-type 2500-percent hyperinflation. A Malacañang communications assistant secretary had produced the video. Malacañang aides say she had the best intentions, but the federal project could have been explained in better – cornier? – ways.

No, please, don’t stop. Filipinos are enjoying the show.

*      *      *

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

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