CLARK FIELD (PLDT/WeRoam) – Ash Wednesday was just a week ago, but it already feels like Holy Week in this sprawling freeport dotted with tourism-sports amenities and factories quietly churning out export products.
It may be the sultry air and the somnolent shade of the acacias casting a Lenten mood, especially in the section that used to be Fort Stotsenberg, a cavalry station that grew after the last war into the home base of the US 13th Air Force.
For a leisurely nature outing, drive up North Luzon Expressway to Clark through verdant fields that will rest your eyes and calm your spirit. Feast at any of the fine eateries, play golf, or soak in water fun. Or simply bring food for a picnic then nap under the acacias.
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MORE JOBS: Having seen the slump of 2009, I was surprised to learn that Clark is now packing in more workers, boosting local commerce and pushing the construction of more dwellings for rent in contiguous towns.
Confirming this, President Benigno N. Ricafort of Clark Development Corp. noted that as of December 31 last year, Clark had chalked up an all-time high of 58,057 workers, improving on the record set in 2008 of 57,790 workers.
When the debate raged in the 1990s over the abrogation of the bases agreement with the United States, there was fear that closing Clark (and Subic naval base) would throw out a large number of Filipino workers that the job market could not absorb.
As it turned out, the Clark Freeport now employs three times more Filipino workers than Clark did under the Americans. In addition, it generates substantial income from manufacturing, exporting and tourism-related businesses.
Rodem Perez, CDC customer service department manager, expressed relief that Clark breached the 58,000 mark after the repercussions of the global economic crisis resulted in the layoff of some 3,000 workers in April 2009.
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POWER NEEDED: Ricafort said the improvement in the employment picture indicates recovery and growth, especially with the entry of new projects contracted last year.
Before President Arroyo steps down, he added, there will be a marked rise in employment, especially with Texas Instrument becoming fully operational soon. The US-based semiconductor firm is expected to hire more than 3,000 workers.
Another boost is the Next Frontier development that has been attracting tourism and industrial investors to the rolling area north of Clark proper.
There are 449 firms here with lease agreements. Of these, 107 firms are service-related; 115 are into electronics, furniture and crafts, manufacturing and garments; 28 engage in commercial operations, 21 in aviation, 16 in tourism, 31 in BPO/IT, eight in utility and four in housing.
A problem that is rearing its ugly head, however, is the increased pressure on power with the entry of more locators. Brownouts indicate that something fast and drastic must be done to ensure steady and reliable electricity.
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HGC CASE: Back in Manila, some Home Guaranty Corp. officials are in hot water for selling cheap a 2.8-hectare government property at the Harbour Centre in Vitas, Tondo, allegedly defrauding government of some P300 million.
The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered seven HGC officials to explain their role in the deal involving the sale of a property way below its fair market value in violation of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The Ombudsman said it has found basis for the investigation of the graft charges against Gonzalo Benjamin Bongolan, HGC president; Elmer Nonnatus Cadano, executive vice president; Melinda Adriano, vice president, guaranty group; Rafael delos Santos, vice president, asset management group; Corazon Corpuz, vice president corporate services division; Danilo Javier, vice president, legal group; and Jimmy Sarona, vice president, management services group.
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OTHER SALES: The complaint was filed by a certain Jerome Canlas over the sale of 2.8 hectares covering Lots 3 and 4, Block 3, at the Harbour Centre to La Paz Milling Corp. on July 21, 2008, for P384,715,800, or about P13,000 per square meter.
Canlas said: “In July 2008, the properties were worth P506,205,000 to P694,224,000 based on purchase prices as of 1999 and 2001, current sales offers, and independent appraisal of market values, or adjacent and adjoining properties.”
He said that in 1999, the Philippine National Bank sold for P22,000 per square meter a lot adjoining the HGC properties. Based on this selling price, he pointed out, HGC could have sold the lots in question for at least P636 million.
In August 2001, he added, the National Housing Authority also sold another adjoining property for P17,500 per square meter.
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HIGHER APPRAISAL: Canlas said the PNB and NHC transactions occurred 10 and eight years before the HGC sale, so the land in question could have fetched a higher price, considering the usual appreciation of real properties in Manila.
According to him, EValue Plus, a professional property consultant firm, placed in its appraisal report dated July 2008 the fair market value of adjoining lots at the Harbour Centre at P24,000 per square meter.
Based on such appraisal, HGC could have sold its lots for at least P694 million, he said.
“The difference between the actual fair market value of the properties and actual purchase price is from P121,489,200 to P309,508,200,” Canlas said. “The government suffered damages equal to those amounts.”
Some developers point out that since the Harbour Centre is now being developed as a major commercial and industrial area, the property could fetch a price of P30,000 per square meter.