Billionaire eager to invest more in Iloilo

ENRIQUE RAZON, JR., the fourth richest man in the Philippines, has just sunk an investment of P10.7 billion for a 25-percent stake or 820 million common shares in Manila Water Co., the water distributor serving the east zone of Metro Manila.

Nobody at Ayala Corp., Manila Water’s parent company, could have foreseen that move. Razon, a newcomer in the water business, was joining one of the two embattled firms – the other being Maynilad Water Services – that the President has ranted against over “onerous provisions” in concession contracts with government.

But Razon is a risk taker. As he himself told economist Solita “Winnie” Monsod in a TV interview, “Yes, I take risks. I may lose but I recover my losses from the earnings of my other ventures.”

He is the chairman of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), the port-handling giant providing container-port terminal services in Manila, Subic, Batangas, General Santos City; and abroad in Poland, Brazil, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

He also owns the world-class Solaire Casino and Resort in Manila, for which he plunked US$1.2 billion to build despite his non-experience in the gaming industry. He relied more on gut feeling, knowing that high rollers from around the world had been coming to the Philippines to play in government-owned casinos.

Every Ilonggo must have already heard of Enrique Razon Jr. as the businessman behind MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power), the new power-distribution franchisee in Iloilo City, through its service vehicles moving around to spot imperfections to be corrected and modernized upon expropriation of facilities of Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

Its franchise having expired on Jan. 19, 2019, PECO should have already turned them over but opted to question the legality of the expropriation as embedded in the franchise law, Republic Act 11212, before a Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court (RTC), and to avail itself of temporary certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

But that’s now water under the bridge, the Supreme Court having restrained the Mandaluyong RTC from enforcing its decision calling the expropriation “unconstitutional”.

The only other problem is the non-implementation of the “writ of possession” prayed for by MORE Power before RTC-Iloilo. It has gone through four judges undecided and is now in the sala of the fifth judge, Gloria Madero of RTC-Iloilo Branch 29.

The writ would compel MORE Power to pay PECO a “just compensation” quoted at P481,842,450, which has already been deposited as escrow in a government bank.

Incidentally, columnist Neil Honeyman once wrote that Razon had offered to buy PECO for P6 billion in 2018, only to be turned down. But while Razon has not confirmed that column item, it could have motivated him to compete with PECO in bidding for the power franchise that same year and won it.

He was just in time. A number of congressmen, irked by complaints against PECO over poor services, obsolete equipment, and overbilling, sponsored the bill granting it to his new company. President Duterte signed the bill into law (RA 11212) on February 14, 2019.

Razon sees the city and province of Iloilo as the next financial hub of the Philippines. There was a time when he told both Mayor Jerry Treñas and Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. of his plan to expand the operation of his International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) here and to upgrade the Iloilo ports to world-class standard.

Who would argue against that? ([email protected]/PN

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