VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

There is a new man in charge at the Philippine Reclamation Authority (Public Estates Authority).

He is Alexander Tantoco Lopez. He is a lawyer, Ateneo Law ’85, a class that produced a number of legal luminaries. He became PPA chair November 2022. “Do the right thing,” President Bongbong Marcos Jr. told the affable and tall Alex.

As chairman of PRA, Alex brings to his new job the gravitas of being a lawyer of nearly 40 years and a law professor of several years, business and political savvy and the pro-poor principle of popular public servants.

Alex knows by heart the six Ms of the construction business – money, manpower, machinery, materials, method and management.

“A project under construction is messy and dirty,” Alex relates, “but when completed, it becomes a thing of beauty, a work of art. You make a profit. The people benefit.”

Alex plans to parlay PRA’s vast landholdings by upgrading their values, entering into joint ventures, selling them, either as REIT (real estate investment trust) or outright sales.

His plans will drastically change Metro Manila’s skyline along one of the world’s best harbors, while at the same time, raise funds to finance major socio-economic projects, boost economic growth, promote inclusion and give parcels of land to some 200,000 landless poor living in coastal areas.

PRA is one of the biggest land owners and developers. It owns huge tracks of prime land, along coastal areas, including those on scenic Manila Bay.

By law, on every reclaimed land in the archipelago, 51 percent must be paid as PRA’s share by the company doing the reclamation. Conservative valuation of PRA’s current landholdings is P150 billion. Analysts place the value closer to P1 trillion.

The holdings do not include thousands of hectares of illegally reclaimed land. Alex has assembled a team of lawyers to run after these illegal land reclamations.

In Mall of Asia, reclaimed lands were originally sold for P10,000 to P25,000 per square meter. Today, those lands fetch P450,000 per square meter, after 30 years. No sellers.

Alex is a construction magnate, heir to one of the largest concrete products manufacturing and infrastructure companies in the Philippines, Pacific Concrete Products, Inc. He also has a distinguished political pedigree. Many of Pacific’s road contracts are funded by foreign governments and multilateral lending agencies. The group of one of few quadruple A (AAAA) construction companies in the Philippines.

With one of the world’s longest coastlines, the Philippine potential to expand its land area is mind boggling. Tapping that potential is the job of the Philippine Reclamation Authority.

For decades, however, lack of vision, strategy and purposefulness have encumbered PRA’s mission and work.

With Alex Lopez as PRA chair, change has finally come.

First, he has made PRA hugely profitable. From a measly P3.54 billion in 2022, PRA net income before tax has ballooned 33-fold to P115.51 billion, an astonishing 3,700 percent jump. It’s a record no other government agency or enterprise has done before. After tax, net profit jumped to a dizzying P86.71 billion in 2023, up a phenomenal 3,135 percent from a paltry net profit of P2.68 billion in 2022.

PRA managed to declare initially P1.354 billion in dividends to the national government, up 430 percent from P254.47 million in 2022, and pay P1.571 billion in taxes. Alex says he will declare another P1 billion in dividends. In one year, thus, Alex would have poured P3.87 billion to state coffers – P2.3 billion in dividends and P1.57 billion in taxes.

By end-2023, PRA assets had scaled up to P150 billion, 4.2 times (or up 420 percent) the P35.90 billion assets declared in 2022. Suddenly, PRA is a mega corporation. Alex plans to increase the value of PRA assets to exceed P1.3 trillion in three years, making it one of the most valuable real estate companies, at par with SM.

Second, Lopez forced all reclamation projects to a thorough review to ensure their viability, compliance with rigid environmental regulations, a focus on inclusion and resilience amid a changing climate and a dynamic, increasingly competitive market. President Marcos Jr. suspended all land reclamation projects.

The result is that the number of reclamation projects was reduced from 44 in Metro Manila to just three – the 360-hectare Pasay LGU reclamation, the 265-hectare Harbor City Reclamation of again Pasay LGU and the 12-hectare Navotas fish port.

Third, the PRA chair has uncorked a Coastal Management Strategy with a view to safeguard coastal communities, address climate change and build inclusion.

CMS builds on pass successes with LGUs in Tacloban City, Palo in Leyte, Bislig City, Surigao City and Virac.  Chair Lopez even initiated a Coastal Defense Strategy with the Masbate LGU.

Fourth, Chairman Lopez has infused into PRA a sense of dynamism, managerial competence and pro-poor visioning so that the agency today is seen under a better light.

Alex is the eldest child of the late Gemiliano “Mel” Lopez, former councilor and the mayor of Manila from 1986 to 1992. Alex worked closely with his mayor dad, as chief of staff and personal assistant. In that job, Alex Lopez learned the intricacies of city governance and administration. His father’s dedication to the people of Manila has inspired him to continue the family legacy of service.

As hizzoner, Mel recaptured Manila’s old vibrancy, rid the national capital of heavy debts, built schools and markets and banned gambling.

Mel was first elected Manila councilor in 1967 and became one of the Liberal Party’s opposition stalwarts nearly decimated in the now infamous 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing instigated by the Communist Party of the Philippines. Mel was an athlete, playing in swimming, boxing and basketball for Jose Rizal College’s Heavy Bombers.

Mayor Mel was the son of Honorio Lopez, a revolutionary war hero, author, historian, playwright and writer of the first Tagalog Almanac.

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Email: [email protected]

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