MANILA, JUNE 1, 2006 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores (Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. –Norman Vincent Peale)

Is the Philippine economy now ready for takeoff? Should entrepreneurs nationwide follow the lead of risk-taking business leaders by investing instead of just complaining or being sidetracked by negative, unproductive and corrupt politics?

An unmistakable sign of a strengthening Philippine economy is an on-going multi-billion-peso construction boom in the Manila Bay reclamation era – once the magnificent dream of visionaries like the late American-Jewish tycoon Harry Stonehill and former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos. SM Group founder Henry Sy has just launched the biggest Mall of Asia and is continuously developing his 60-hectare landholdings. The government is planning a new PAGCOR City. Metrobank Group founder George S. K. Ty is developing six condominium towers of the Bay Garden project, along with the Blue Wave commercial area and his Manila Doctors Hospital project. Now, a consortium of 15 dynamic Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs from Bay Pacific Neo Chinatown, Inc. is developing an innovative four-hectare "NeoChinatown" right beside the Mall of Asia, to complement it, they say.

Some of the investors behind the NeoChinatown project and the landowner, 31-year-old Edwin Michael "Dindo" Wenceslao Jr. of D.M. Wenceslao construction group, recently gave The Philippine STAR an exclusive interview on why they are investing in a new Chinatown by the Manila Bay.

With him were 31-year-old architect Mark Steven Ong, 42-year-old Edwin Ong of ILO Construction, 28-year-old Denver Dy of Cougar Resources Corp., William Li of Tanabe Japanese Restaurant, and Robert Tiu de Jesus. Others in the consortium not present include CEO Guillermo "Gemo" Chutick of Hush Puppies footwear, Peter Chua of Edison Electric, Willy Ong of Boysen Paints, Wellington Tan and Jimmy Tan of Columbia Wire & Cable, Chris Tang of Chris Sports and younger brother Jimmy Tang, honorary president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc.; Charlie Lim of Izu Parts, Bonifacio Que of Que Pe Hardware, Sammy Tan of S & H Electrical Contractors, and Albert Teh of Dragon Gate Chinese Restaurant. This group meets regularly to brainstorm at the Toyota Quezon Avenue also owned by the family of William Li.

The four hectares of prime land beside the Mall of Asia were part of the fees paid by the government’s Public Estate Authority (PEA) to the D.M. Wenceslao construction firm for their reclamation, which started in 1989 and covers the 204 hectares known as the "Aseana Business Park." It also includes landholdings owned by Belle Corp., the AFP-RSBS of the Philippine military, a German investor group and the R-1 consortium. The joint venture of the Wenceslao family with the group of Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs to develop NeoChinatown came about when architect Mark Steven Ong befriended Dindo Wenceslao over their common love of tennis.

Why are they investing in such a huge project at a time when some people are complaining about unstable, corrupt politics or a weak economy? The young entrepreneurs disagree, pointing out that there are many positive signs both in macroeconomic conditions and even in the stabilizing political situation. They say they are entrepreneurs and not politicians, so they prefer to focus on ventures that can generate new jobs and new investments rather than wait for the political situation to become perfect.

"There’s an ancient Chinese concept that in every crisis situation, there are both dangers and opportunity," Ong says. "We strongly believe that there are a lot of good opportunities in the Philippine economy and this booming Manila Bay reclamation area will become a better version of Makati City. As young Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs, we really believe in the idea of helping create a modern and more beautiful Chinatown in this project of ours – one that is better-planned, less congested, less polluted and more tourist-friendly than Manila’s old Chinatown area, which dates back to colonial times so it is more crowded. Here we shall have a night market as vibrant, exotic and lively as those found in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and other parts of Asia. We shall invite the best chefs and restaurateurs of various kinds of Chinese cuisines. We shall have traditional Chinese opera and a celebration of authentic Chinese culture. The NeoChinatown will be a blend of the traditional with the modern; it will cater to people from all walks of life, including tourists."

According to Ong, if the opportunity arises, their consortium would even be willing to support Manila Mayor Lito Atienza in his visionary redevelopment efforts for the old Chinatown district. They believe the key to strengthening the Philippine economy is to invite more foreign investors and tourists. They’re urging the government to help invite more investors and to improve the stability of politics to create a better investment environment.

"We aim to hold the soft launching of NeoChinatown in late June," adds Dindo Wenceslao. "In the Chinese tradition throughout Asia, it is the age-old belief that July to September are the ‘ghost months,’ so we’re targeting October as the opening of our phase one covering 1.6 hectares."

According to Edwin Ong, "We are investing now because we fervently believe that opportunities arise in times of uncertainties. We are optimistic about the future, and we hope more business people share our sentiments and help change the future by investing now and not tomorrow."

Denver Sy says, "We are very optimistic about the NeoChinatown project mainly because of our strong team of partners. We have a dynamic team of the best entrepreneurs who all share an exciting vision."

Affirms William Li, "The Philippine economy is growing, and it’s up to us entrepreneurs and investors to accelerate and sustain this growth momentum regardless of the politics. We are doing our share to support the economy through this NeoChinatown project. We hope this project will be our legacy to future generations, it’s not only about business profits. Our architectural inspiration came from Shanghai’s classical Yu Yuan Gardens and the modern Xintiandi area. We hope to make this project the classiest and most beautiful Chinatown in the world, a tourist destination in the Philippines. We hope President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will help business people by cutting on bureaucratic red tape, not only in the national government but also in the local governments nationwide. I hope we can encourage more investments and faster economic growth which shall benefit all. The young entrepreneurs in our consortium are very positive about the future of the Philippine economy, that’s why we are investing now in this NeoChinatown project which shall be a place the whole Philippines can be proud of."

With the new developments and massive construction efforts in the Manila Bay reclamation area, it seems inevitable that this scenic region of Metro Manila and site of one of Asia’s best natural harbors will soon rival Makati, Fort Bonifacio, Ortigas Center and other areas as the ultimate central business district and new tourist destination of the Philippines.

With or without better politics, entrepreneurs, investors and people of various professions nationwide should emulate the gung-ho spirit, guts and determination of the NeoChinatown proponents in doing something positive for the Philippine economy. Even in the worst crisis situation, there are exciting opportunities for business and progress for those who are hardworking, resourceful, innovative and imbued with positive thinking.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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