SELL MANILA HOTEL TO SAUDI TYCOON, TURN MALACAÑANG INTO TOURISM PARK

MANILA, MAY 17, 2006 (STAR) Bull Market, Bull Sheet By Wilson Lee Flores (If I’m going to do something, I do it spectacularly or I don’t do it at all. – Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud )

Congratulations to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for succeeding in convincing the world-famous 51-year-old Saudi billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud to send a team to study tourism investment potentials in the Philippines, but no thanks Ma’am for bringing home close to 500 imprisoned overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) including those charged with homicide for whom Saudi King Abdullah paid "blood money" to the families of their alleged victims.

This is bizarre. I’m not condemning those convicts or prejudging their true guilt, but there are one million hardworking and productive OFWs in Saudi Arabia whom I would rather bring back to the Philippines on chartered flights for the purpose of rebuilding our economy, if we can only create decent-paying jobs for their skills. Newscaster Ricky Carandang of ANC hit the bull’s eye, when he incredulously asked on TV whether those 500 convicts have already repented or expressed remorse?

The propagandists of President GMA failed to do thorough research and fed her info she announced on national TV that Prince Alwaleed is "ranked by Forbes magazine as the world’s fifth richest person," but that was the 2005 ranking, for the prince had since slid down to No. 8 this year with an estimated net worth of $20 billion. Still, this prince is still a world-class dealmaker and bargain-hunter investor whose possible investment here will not only help highlight the Philippines on the radar screens of international investors, but will surely also generate positive business headlines.

International media has for years been praising Prince Alwaleed of Kingdom Holding Company as a cosmopolitan, US-educated and long-term investor who is savvy at investing in undervalued companies like then ailing Citicorp in the early 1990s. Time magazine has described him an "Arabian Warren Buffett," comparing him to the world’s greatest living investor. In 1995, Business Week magazine said that by 2010 the Saudi prince could be "the most powerful and influential businessman on earth."

Prince Alwaleed has made large investments in such western giants as Citicorp, AOL, Steve Job’s Apple Computer, Worldcom, Motorola, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Ltd and other information technology and mass media firms. In tourism, he has invested in the posh Four Seasons hotel chain and the Plaza Hotel in New York, Savoy Hotel of London, Monte Carlo Grand Hotel of Monaco and Fairmont Hotels of Canada.

GMA said the prince expressed admiration for her political will. I wish for the sake of the local economy that she will enthusiastically follow through – in indefatigable stubborn GMA chutzpah – with this initial contact and translate those words into investment dollars. The President should solicit the help of Saudi Ambassador Mohammed Ameen Mohammed Wali, one of the friendliest foreign diplomats in Manila, to help ensnare Prince Alwaleed as investor in the Philippines by hook or by crook.

I believe President GMA is not fantasizing or pulling our legs for mere media pogi points in claiming that she had stumbled into a genie who might come out of the magic lamp to help light our economy with investments. It is not far-fetched for this guy to invest in our tropical paradise, for in February this year, a country as wretchedly backward as Uganda announced that this same Prince Alwaleed is planning to build three hotels there. This African nation announced that its Ministry of Education has resolved to relocate Shimoni Demonstration School and the Teachers College to another place, so the Saudi prince can construct a five-star hotel on 15.1 acres of land.

Perhaps GMA can ask him to buy and rehabilitate the once prestigious Manila Hotel, or turn Corregidor into a tourism estate, or Puerto Azul, or that whole mess called the NAIA-3 airport? Perhaps, GMA should just lease out Malacañang Palace as a tourism/cultural theme park, so that the seat of power can get out of the seemingly negative feng shui beside the heavily-polluted Pasig River which stank with the smell of dirty politics. This is no joke, if GMA transfers out of Malacañang, she can move the political center to a new place outside Metro Manila far from coup plotters and street protesters, perhaps near Clark in her home province Pampanga, and spur faster regional development there? GMA can learn from ex-Premier Mahathir who totally developed a new political capital with his own palace in Putrajaya City. Why not?

A word of caution to President GMA, Prince Alwaleed is great when scouring for investment opportunities in distressed companies but not in distressed countries, so her dispensation should press on with her public pledges of reforms on the budget deficit, on cutting down massive corruption and on furiously increasing economic productivity.

Last year in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, he was asked: "As a businessman, you are known for taking over ailing companies and waiting patiently, sometimes even decades, until they turn a profit. Have you recently considered investing in Iraq?" Prince Alwaleed replied: "No. Iraq is too unstable and unpredictable. You cannot invest in a country threatened by civil war, where bombs are exploding every day. I can save ailing companies, but not an ailing nation. Iraq is consumed by a conflict involving the United States, al-Qaida, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites. All of this goes well beyond my control. Iraq is a quagmire."

President GMA, please don’t allow the Philippines to decay into a quagmire of cynical and corrupt politics, but redeem your name in the annals of history by expending all your boundless ambition, energies and political will to revive the Philippine economy.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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