'Megaworld's lot donation for ICC to jumpstart investment'
ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Was Megaworld's donation of a 1.74-hectare lot to the government for the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) an unusual move?
In an interview with Rappler on Friday, November 14, Iloilo City Trade and Investment Board head Felix Tiu said Megaworld's move made sense from a business standpoint: once the project is completed, it can jumpstart Megaworld's investment there.
The ICC is currently under public scrutiny following allegations of anomalies linked to the project, which is intended to be the venue for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Senior Ministers' Meeting in 2015.
The development project is expected to bolster Iloilo's bid to be "one of the magnets for conventions" in the world.
But a former Iloilo official has alleged that Senate President Franklin Drilon, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr, and others have conspired to jack up the cost of the project, but has provided no evidence, so far. (READ: 'No evidence' of ICC overprice on first day of Senate probe)
At a Senate probe into the issue, Drilon denied the allegations, saying that the government even saved around P521 million ($11.6 million) since Megaworld donated the lot through his "initiative."
Tiu said that by donating the lot to the government, Megaworld also stands to gain from its development.
"[Megaworld gave the lot] to the Department of Tourism (DOT) to jumpstart their investment there because it's a mixed use development," Tiu said.
He added: "They will have hotels, malls, and that is a very good start to having business conferences. You can attract a lot of visitors to come to Iloilo and use the convention center for conferences."
Tiu noted that part of the donated land had been previously bought by Megaworld from the government, to the tune of P1.2 billion for 54 hectares.
He added that the land now donated to the DOT is worth an estimated P1.7 billion.
Even with the ICC controversy, Tiu believes it will not affect local businessmen, citing Drilon's reputation among them as an "honest political leader."
"I think we will not be affected by that," he added.
Poised for growth
Tiu also noted that the city's economy has been picking up at 10% growth every year since 2010.
Investors are also taking note of the city's potentials for growth, particularly in the sectors of business process outsourcing (BPO), tourism, real estate, and education, Tiu added.
"Iloilo has been like a sleeping city before....We are very lucky and blessed that some of the big names in the industry here in the Philippines came to Iloilo."
At the first Senate hearing on the ICC on November 13, Drilon narrated that representatives of the Iloilo hotel industry approached him to seek help on the province's low occupancy rates, and suggested the construction of a convention center to boost the provincial economy. – Rappler.com