Negrenses last night called on President Benigno Aquino III to ask the Commission on Audit why it has taken more than a year to come up with a decision on whether or not it will approve the Negros Occidental provincial government sale and lease of its 7.7-hectare Bacolod property to AyalaLand.
About 500 Negrenses who lit candles in front of the Negros Occidental Capitol in Bacolod City to mourn the loss of the P6 billion investment plan of AyalaLand, also called on the firm not to leave.
Nestor “Aboy” Evaristo, vice president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Negros Occidental, and Danny Yee, head of the Philippine Constructors Association of Negros, said the gathering last night was spontaneous and apolitical.
They just wanted to air their disgust and disappointment at the loss of the AyalaLand investment that would have brought billions of pesos into the local economy and created thousands of jobs, Evaristo and Yee said.
The two had sent text messages out Sunday, that were echoed by concerned citizens on their social networking sites, calling on Negrenses to join them in lighting candles to mourn the loss of a huge economic opportunity and jobs for Negros.
Last night, construction workers, hotel and restaurant management students, businessmen and private citizens gathered in front of the Capitol carrying a streamer that said “AyalaLand Please Don’t Leave”.
On Friday, Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. said it was a very sad day for Negros Occidental and Bacolod City,as AyalaLand had withdrawn its P6 billion development plan for the 7.7-hectare provincial government property.
He said the withdrawal was due to the delay in the COA ruling on the deed of conditional sale and contract of lease of the property to ALI by the Capitol that it had submitted for review in July last year yet.
Jorge Miguel Marcó, Ayala Corporate Communications head, said “After more than a year since the property was awarded toAyala Landfor development, we are unable to pursue the project on account of the delays and legal disputes that continue to threaten its implementation, through no fault of ours. As a publicly-listed company with shareholders to answer to, we cannot operate in such uncertain conditions. We thus informed the Governor that we are open to discussing the possibility of a mutual disengagement from the project.”
Yee said they don’t want AyalaLand to pull out of the project, all heads must come together to come up with a win-win solution.
“We have a president who is very popular, who has the heart and minds of people, if we attract enough attention, perhaps it will reach him and he will look into this,” Yee said, referring to the delay in the release of the COA resolution.
“We are not blaming anybody, we just don’t want the Ayala investment to go to waste,” he said.
This is not an issue that concerns the rich, this is about lost job opportunities for ordinary people, he said.
They say if AyalaLand leaves, other investors will come in but who and when? he asked.
AyalaLand was set to start work on the Capitol property immediately if not for the delays, he said.
Evaristo said they were gathered in front of the Capitol to show their disgust and disappointment at the loss of the AyalaLand investment.
“We are sad about what happened and are not taking this sitting down,” he said.
A lot of people are affected by this development, he said, noting that about 1,000 hotel and restaurant management students graduate every school year that would have benefitted from the project.
“We want Ayala to speak to us,” he said.
He said they are also calling on the President to ask COA to release its decision.
“We want to know what COA’s decision is so we can move on, instead being held hostage,” he said.
Evaristo said that after last night, their group will meet again to decide on other forms of action.
Ramiro Garcia of the United Architects of the Philippines said he was at the candle-lighting rites because he is angry.
“What kind of government and COA do we have? This project is not only for Negros Occidental but for Bacolod City…why over a year to say yes or no?” Garcia asked.
AyalaLand had planned to transform the property behind the Capitol into a modern metropolis, and make the Capitol lagoon park a beautiful place, he said.
Businessman Oscar Anglo said he represented the people of Bacolod who are disappointed by the pull-out of the AyalaLand project. ShoeMart and Robinsons have malls in Bacolod, AyalaLand’s projects are classier than the two, he said.
Marañon, in an interview yesterday morning, said he hopes the shouts of the people of Bacolod and Negros Occidental reach Malacañang.
Asked if AyalaLand would change its mind if the COA approves the sale and lease of the Capitol property, the governor said “Let’s hope and pray it does.”
The withdrawal of AyalaLand from the project is a big setback for Negros and Bacolod, he said. This has been caused by the greed of other people who think only of their interest and not of the majority, especially the poor of Negros who need jobs, he said.
Negros Occidental Board Member Nehemias de la Cruz claimed that there is a politician behind the delay in the Ayala project, and that caused the firm to withdraw. Negrenses should get rid of people who pretend to be leaders, but bury the future of the province in exchange for their own economic interests, he added.
Marco, in August last year, saidthat they planned to develop the 7.7-hectare property into an integrated mixed-used civic and commercial district that will combine the center of government with commercial and residential use, making it the new growth center of Metro Bacolod and Negros Occidental.
The Capitol Civic Center would encompass a retail, office and hotel, multi-use convention and events venue, and a residential commercial zone, he said.
It was also supposed to include the development of the Capitol Park.*CPG