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Uncertainty abounds as Landing says Duterte laid foundations for Manila land deal

Thursday, 09 August 2018 06:25
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L to R: Landing COO Jay Lee, Chairman Yang Zhihui, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Landing CFO David Hoon at last September’s meeting

Uncertainty over the future of Landing International Development’s planned US$1.5 billion Manila integrated resort has been further clouded by the company’s assertion that it was Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte himself who guided them to the plot of land they are now fighting to retain.

Landing held a ground-breaking ceremony for the Entertainment City IR, to be called NayonLanding, on Tuesday but in a remarkable turn of events was blindsided by the news that Duterte had fired the entire board of Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) – the government culture and tourism arm that granted and signed Landing’s lease contract for the land, located in Manila’s Entertainment City precinct.

So suddenly did Duterte lower the sword that NPF chairperson Patricia Ocampo proceeded with her previously planned welcome speech as part of the ground-breaking ceremony before breaking down in tears moments later.

Landing subsequently cancelled a series of media interviews planned for Tuesday afternoon – including one with Inside Asian Gaming – before releasing a statement in which it declared its intention to push ahead with the development of NayonLanding and insisted its lease contract with NPF is still valid and effective.

Most intriguing though is Landing’s assertion that it was Duterte himself who drove the company’s pursuit and acquisition of the land in question, located between Solaire Resort & Casino and Okada Manila.

Asked at a press conference in Manila on Tuesday morning about the strikingly similar scenario facing Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group – who announced plans for a US$500 million resort in Boracay earlier this year only for Duterte to declare there would be no casinos built on the holiday island – Landing’s COO Jay Lee said, “I can’t really comment on what happened in Boracay with Galaxy but we started looking at this investment more than a year ago.

“During one of the overseas visits from the President when he was trying to attract direct investments, our Chairman was able to meet up with him … and he welcomed foreign investors.

“After that he set us up with different departments – the tourism department and different departments to help us look for suitable sites for what we intend to do in Manila.

“This land that came about was actually through that process. It was referred to us from different industries, different departments and that was how we found it, so certainly for more than a year now we have been in direct contact with the relevant departments to get where we are today.”

Lee added that the government has long known about Landing’s IR plans and that “the government was very clear in terms of what they wanted.”

IAG reported last September that Landing had met with Duterte and his cabinet at Malacaňang Palace to discuss its IR proposal, having previously met in Hong Kong in May 2017.

Landing declared at the time that, “President Duterte welcomes the company’s proposed investment into the Philippines and expressed his keen interest and overwhelming support to the company’s proposal.”

The Duterte government said on Wednesday it would seek a full probe into the land lease deal, described earlier in the week as “grossly disadvantageous.” It follows an incident in May that saw Duterte’s niece and NPF board member Maria Fema Duterte file a complaint against her fellow board members for, among other reasons, approving Landing’s land lease for an amount well below expectations – claiming that the low lease price would cost the government Php517 million per year.

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