To tango or to tangle

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Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier this week had announced an order by President Rodrigo Duterte firing the entire board of the state-owned Nayong Pilipino Foundation Inc. (NPFI) for entering into a lease contract that was “grossly disadvantageous” to the government.

With that many heads rolling, Duterte reinforced his election campaign messaging that corruption has no place in his government and that he is willing to let go of people even at the slightest hint of them being involved in shenanigans.

So many other government officials in the past had been given pink slips, including some very close friends of the President and the culling of the entire NPFI board should serve as yet another warning to the corrupt in government.

But the NPFI story does not end with the mass firing because the private sector proponent of the NayonLanding hotel, resort and casino project – Hong Kong’s Landing International Development – is clearly not giving up without a fight.

The company insisted that its project will push through and that its lease contract with NPFI was “valid and effective.”

“From the group’s view point, the recent decision of the Philippine Government to replace members of the NPFI board of trustees did not affect the validity of the subject contract of lease,” Landing said in a statement.

“Unless the lease contract is canceled or nullified on legal grounds by the courts, Landing has reason to believe that it is a valid leaseholder and can legally proceed with its project,” it added.

Now, that’s some spunk on the part of Landing except that it is messing up with someone like President Duterte who has never backed down from any confrontation. In fact, Duterte has already ordered the Department of Justice (DoJ) to look into the “onerous contract” clearly for the purpose of unilaterally rescinding the same.

Landing will be well-advised to just lick its chops and let go of the project because it cannot force the Philippine government through the NPFI, with its new board, to dance with it. Landing wants to tango with Duterte? It’ll get entanglement, instead.

The project has already broken ground and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp has just issued a casino license for NayonLanding, which will be built on Entertainment City, supposedly “the country’s answer to Las Vegas and Macau.”

But those are of no matter because the Philippine government cannot allow itself to be robbed blind, reportedly by at least P517 million a year, if the project pushes through. It cannot give the go-signal to an undertaking which did not pass public bidding.

The NayonLanding project seems legally indefensible as all tourism projects require biddings. The only exception to the bidding requirement is if it’s a project of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) or of an accredited entity of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

“But there is no (TIEZA or PEZA) accreditation for Landing, so it should really go through public bidding,” Roque said. “He was really tired of corruption and he said he cannot understand how the contract was approved.”

“Initially, it was for 70 years and while it was changed, there were still two extensions and those were still very long. He cannot understand why. And there is an issue on why the price is very cheap and it did not go through any bidding.”

The ball is now on the court of the DoJ and, with so many questions being raised on the NayonLanding project, it will not come as a surprise if Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra comes up with a quick decision to rescind Landing’s lease contract.

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