Dear Philippine Daily Inquirer,
I would just like to express my sullen response to the editorial column of Conrado Banal III in your daily paper. I admire Philippine Daily Inquirer for reporting news fair and square but this column of Mr. Banal got not only me by surprise but the people of Negros Occidental as well. I belong to an organization called Skyscrapercity Bacolod, a conglomeration of forum members in the forum website SkscraperCity.com hailing from the Province of Negros Occidental. As an organization functioning primarily as an unofficial tourism and investment watchdog of the whole province, we have been following the process of the entire bid when it was not yet in the news and still considered a “hearsay” at that time. We knew for a fact that SM Prime and Ayala Land, Inc., with Robinsons Land as well as some hearsay goes, have been interested in the Capitol lot for years already.
It was in the middle of this year during the waning months of summer that SM Prime came up with an unsolicited proposal to develop not the whole 7.7 hectare land but only 3.6 hectares or just the property that is directly behind the Provincial Capitol. Contrary to Mr. Banal’s pre-supposition that an SM Mall will be built there, the proposal only includes the “required” convention center, hotels, residential and BPO buildings. Just for the information of the reading public, there is already a big SM Mall just a few hundred meters from the Capitol lot site that opened almost half a decade ago in the Reclamation Area. It would be a business blunder to open up a mall that directly competes with your own established mall. The SM Prime proposal is splendid with PhP2.5B investment for the province and the people of Negros Occidental thought that SM Prime would already get the lot.
According to law and the regulations set by the Commission on Audit, government property set for sale or lease must undergo a bidding process which the interested companies would submit their official and final proposal for the designated Bids and Awards Committee of the province to deliberate. Last July 7, the Province of Negros Occidental proceeded with the bidding process as planned. Lo and behold! Only Ayala Land, Inc. submitted their bid to the Province out of three bidders expected. SM Prime which has bathed itself in pride in their media hyped proposal to the Province did not submit their bid even though they were informed beforehand that they must submit their final proposal for bid. Because the law requires three bidders to participate in a bidding of government property, a failure of bidding was pronounced by the Bids and Awards Committee of the Province with another bidding scheduled a more than a week after for the companies to prepare.
The next bidding was this time participated by both SM Prime with their finalized version of the unsolicited proposal and Ayala Land, Inc. with their previously unopened and unchanged proposal. When both proposals were opened and scrutinized, Ayala Land, Inc. outbids SM Prime by PhP4B with their PhP6.5B proposal which not only includes the development of the entire 7.7 hectare property but also the improvement of Provincial Capitol facilities, beautification of the Provincial Lagoon and the adjacent area Wildlife Park occupied by Negros Forest, Inc. This is in contrast to the claim of Mr. Banal that Ayala Land, Inc. is only interested with a smaller portion of the land. In fact, it is SM Prime that is interested with only a small portion of the land. The proposal of Ayala Land, Inc. is clearly a grander one which will not only develop the lots but they also bothered to restore the Lagoon and Wildlife Park which is considered a heritage of not just the City of Bacolod but also the Province of Negros Occidental.
With regards to the floor price, it has already been set by COA regulations long before the bid was submitted. The almost PhP24,000 per sq. m. sale by Ayala Land, Inc. is clearly way above the PhP19,500 per sq. m. floor price by COA as compared to SM Prime’s less than PhP19,000 per sq. m. Even without the ceiling price regulations set by COA, the second bidding process is still a failure since there were only two companies which is one less for the bidding to be considered a success. Even if we will allow the bidding to push through, SM Prime is already beaten in all sides by Ayala Land, Inc. Since two biddings were deemed failed, the law now allows for a negotiation to commence a week after which the two bidding companies were informed beforehand. Instead of joining the negotiation, SM Prime instead opted to file a case and a TRO in the Regional Trial Court. Even if the Province was threatened with a case and a TRO, the Governor still will welcome SM Prime in the negotiations. The Regional Trial Court did not grant the TRO and deemed the case lacking in grounds, so the negotiations were pushed through. It was only Ayala Land, Inc. that went to the scheduled negotiations and because of the absence of SM Prime, common sense together with the merits of law would already tell us that it is but proper that the lot be awarded to Ayala Land, Inc.
From the beginning, the bidding process was clear and open since the Governor himself took the unnecessary step of informing the media regularly of any new developments before, during and after the bidding. Mr. Banal’s analogy of comparing his baranggay with the Province of Negros Occidental is all but fallacious. When it comes to the bidding of suppliers in which the government is the buyer, the “cheaper is better” rule of the thumb applies but when it comes to companies that will be pouring an investment to the government, that is is entirely a different story. When someone buys the house you are selling, which is more beneficial: a higher payment or a lower payment? Clearly the higher payment will be better. A PhP6.5B investment would be a bigger and better banana compared to a meekling PhP2.5B investment. Even the slowest learner among grade school students would actually know that for a fact too. This PhP6.5B investment and Ayala Land, Inc.’s reputation for world class infrastructure would surely benefit the Province of Negros Occidental that’s why all sectors of Negrénse and Bacoleño society like the Chambers of Commerce, the City Government of Bacolod, small retailers and even fisherfolks to farmers supported the Governor and Ayala Land, Inc. with full force. Besides, an Ayala Mall is what Negrénses have long been dreaming even before SM City Bacolod opened its doors. While SM City Bacolod ignited a real estate boom in the city, the presence of an Ayala Mall would triple that effect.
I hope this matter has been clarified not only with your honorable daily newspaper company but also with the loyal readership as well. It is my humble prayer that this letter be published as a response so that the loyal readers would have another perspective of the issue since I myself know that your company values balanced views. Even though my fellow Negrénses deplore the apparent insult that Mr. Banal have thrown upon the people of Negros Occidental through his column, rest assured that the Negrénse populace would still read Philippine Daily Inquirer with its reputation balanced and fair news.
MARK WILL MAYO – MAGALLANES
in behalf of Skyscrapercity Bacolod, Inc. (Manila)