Sometime in early 2000, during the presidency of President Joseph Estrada, Ramon Ang and I were in animated conversation about Pagcor. He had a scheduled audience with the president and was waiting in the anteroom.
We were talking about the reclamation area beside Manila Bay. Being then the general manager of the Philippine Tourism Authority, I was exploring the idea of converting the huge area into an entertainment center with gaming, or casinos as main attraction. I checked with then Public Estates Authority chairman, Mr. Frisco San Juan about the possibility of converting their 44-hectare property in the middle of the privately held areas of the Henry Sy, Metrobank and Wenceslao business empires, acquired during the Ramos administration, into my concept of a tourist destination for Metro Manila.
The discussion veered toward why Pagcor is in the gambling business. I recall Mr. Ang saying, “alam mo dapat gawin ni Presidente? Sell Pagcor to the big Las Vegas operators, and maintain it purely as a regulator of gaming.”
“Let’s assume the country gets 10 billion dollars for Pagcor. It can turn around and borrow at least 10 times more with that kind of money. Imagine 100 billion dollars pumped into government coffers”, he added.
“President Erap can build a superhighway from north to south of Luzon, and finance other infrastructure projects in Visayas and Mindanao that will not only provide instant employment in construction, but modernize our obsolete infrastructure. Ang daming pwedeng gawin na projects, instead of government being in the business of gambling itself,” Mr. Ang explained.
I proceeded to plan together with Ka Frisco on the utilization of their publicly held reclamation area, so that together we could present the concept to then President Estrada. But as fate would have it, the political maelstrom sparked by Gov. Chavit Singson’s “jueteng-gate” discombobulated the administration after the ghost month of that year, and led to its fall a few days before the lunar new year of 2001 unfolded. Later, under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pagcor’s Ephraim Genuino built the so-called Entertainment City where Solaire, City of Dreams, Okada and soon Resorts World would locate.
I recalled this encounter with Mr. Ang after reading about his proposal to undertake rice warehousing and distribution as a private sector solution to the ailing National Food Authority.
He proposes to build temperature and humidity-controlled grain silos to store rice in bulk, whether locally sourced or imported. With the market distribution reach of San Miguel Corp., the country’s largest food and beverage manufacturer, he could also bring the staple commodity to the country’s consumer markets more efficiently and cost-effectively.
In light of the imminent passage of rice tariffication and the lifting of quantitative requirements on the importation of rice, the NFA’s present monopoly on rice importation will have to go, save only for certification of phyto-sanitary and quality control aspects. This is what our economic managers are pushing—for the rice trade, as in other commodities, to be in the hands of the private sector, rather than a government monopoly which exacts huge debts for the government to shoulder.
But the sudden shift from government monopoly to full private sector importation by any tom, dick or harry can also create an imbalance in the market, to the detriment of palay farmers. It could cause a flood of cheap imports that would marginalize our still cost-uncompetitive rice sector, especially the farmers.
It is given such a situation where Ramon Ang’s proposal becomes a complimentary private sector-led solution. In much the same way that RSA, as he is often referred to, is likewise proposing to build an international gateway-cum-aerotropolis in Bulacan, Bulacan.
This is what I keep writing about: that government will never be successful in running business given our bureaucratic and auditing rules and regulations. Cost-efficiency is simply impossible if government undertakes operations that profit-driven private enterprise can do more creatively, more adroitly and more effectively.
Take Duty Free. Privatize it. Take Nayong Pilipino, whose reason for being has become obsolete, but still owns sizable real estate. Abolish it, and let government assign the real properties to another GOCC to sell, lease or go into a joint venture with the private sector using such assets as capital.
* * *
Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lloyd Go is being raked over the coals on account of a construction firm put up by his father which was able to participate in DPWH-bid contracts.
In the absence of details of such contracts which Bong Go is very much willing to have the Senate or any other body to investigate, what his detractors are capitalizing upon is the name of the construction firm—CLTG Construction, which represent the initials of Bong.
The poor guy is being crucified in the bar of public opinion simply because his father named a corporation after his eldest son’s initials, long before Duterte ever dreamed of becoming president, under which prospective administration his son would play an important role in.
Come on, how many Filipino businessmen name their enterprises after themselves or their children? I put up a corporation way back in the ’80s and named it after my grandmother. I have another registered corporate name using the first syllables of my children’s names put together.
But because Bong is close to the president, and because he is mentioned as planning to run for senator, he is now being pilloried by public perception because of his initials and his father’s business.