Friday, 1 May 2009

Business MVP

Marvin A. Tort
Business Mirror

Without doubt, Manuel V. Pangilinan is well on his way to becoming the country’s business MVP. His wealthy and influential business group is already a valuable player in various industries, including telecommunications, real-estate development, and hospital and tollways management, and remains on the lookout for opportunities to further diversify and broaden its reach.

Obviously, there is logic in his group’s business choices. Seemingly, Pangilinan, or MVP, appears concentrated on the transport or carrier business. As things are, he already provides various platforms and systems—through his telecommunications and tollway companies—for goods, services, information, transportation and people to move or flow from one point to the other.

And one cannot say his business choice is ill-conceived. Since his return to the Philippines after many years as a highly paid executive in Hong Kong, he seems to have had the uncanny ability to invest in the right industry at the right time. He has had vision and foresight for economic opportunity—perhaps the very traits that should be required of the next Philippine president.

His business group bought into the Philippine Long Distance and Telephone Co. (PLDT) just as the telecommunications industry was being liberalized during the Ramos administration, and his management team has since then raised not just PLDT but also other telecommunications firms, like Smart and Piltel, to unprecedented reach and profitability.

He also successfully invested in the conversion of the former Fort Bonifacio military base in Taguig into the Bonifacio Global City business district, which is now among the booming top-of-mind real-estate developments in Metro Manila.

His Metro Pacific Investments Corp. has also purchased a controlling stake in Manila North Tollways Corp. from the Lopez group. This latest acquisition invariably makes his group the undisputed biggest toll-roads operator in the country, with participation in the North Luzon Expressway, as well as its planned extension to La Union from Tarlac; the Subic-Tipo Expressway; the proposed link of C-5 to the Manila Port Area that will cross the Nlex near the Valenzuela interchange; and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

More recent business decisions allowed him to also take advantage of emerging opportunities in healthcare and medical tourism, petroleum, mining, and transportation and logistics. From cradle to the grave, many Filipinos use products and services provided by Pangilinan’s business group. Talk about being all over the place, and becoming indispensable to everyday lives.

Only recently, he has reportedly expressed interest in bidding for the planned $3-billion high-speed rail project that will connect the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) in Parañaque City. This was revealed to the media by Victor Jose Luciano, Clark International Airport Corp. president and CEO.

Luciano also says Pangilinan’s advantage is his ability to provide the right of way for the proposed high-speed rail from Caloocan City to Magallanes in Makati City. With this right of way, he says, Naia can finally be connected to Clark. As for the right of way from Caloocan City to Clark, the matter is nearly settled, he adds.

The Clark chief also says the project will probably cost at least $3 billion, with $1 billion going to right-of-way acquisition, and $2 billion to be spent for the construction and the trains. He adds that the government expects to choose a private-sector partner for the joint-venture project before the end of the year by entertaining even unsolicited offer.

In building the high-speed rail, which can bring Metro Manila passengers to and from Clark in about 45 minutes, he says it will be easier to convince airline companies to move to Clark and make it the country’s premier international airport. Naia, meanwhile, can be converted into a domestic airport.

One can only hope that Pangilinan seriously considers building the proposed railway from Naia to Clark. Its benefits to the economy can be tremendous. It will also complement plans for the so-called Northrail, including the proposed rehabilitation of the old rail line from Manila to Damortis in La Union, which has been in discussion since the mid-1990s.

Given the Pangilinan group’s recent business decisions relatively to transport, and its current control of toll roads north of Metro Manila, building a railway seems to be a strategic fit. And a public-private partnership on a major infrastructure project such as this is a good way to pump-prime a struggling economy.

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