Philippine Daily Inquirer



The sudden departure of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager

Jesus Clint Aranas came as a shock to the public, and even the senior officials of the state pension fund.

But Biz Buzz learned that even more shocked was Aranas himself, who had no inkling until Tuesday morning that the proverbial “pink slip” had already been dispatched from Malacañang and was on its way to the GSIS headquarte­rs in Pasay City.

And who are his allies blaming for his abrupt exit?

They were quick to point the finger at businessma­n Enrique

Razon Jr. whom Aranas openly challenged by mounting a campaign just a few weeks ago to sell the 67-hectare port area property owned by GSIS but occupied by the tycoon's Internatio­nal Container Terminal Services Inc. (The firm pays rent to the Philippine Ports Authority and Razon said the dispute should be settled between GSIS and the port regulator.)

"He is citing personal reasons," Razon told the Inquirer in a text message.

Of course, Aranas also had previous run-ins with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that resulted in the former being transferre­d from his original post as deputy commission­er at the Bureau of Internal Revenue to the GSIS in late 2017.

“It's a confluence of reasons,” one of his friends said.

As for Razon, the business and political circles are now abuzz about NOT crossing the ports tycoon. Recall, of course, that a Macau gaming firm called Landing tried to set up a casino operation at the Pagcor Entertainm­ent City and, in the pro

cess, upset Razon who was still in the process of recovering his multibilli­on-dollar investment in Solaire Resort and Casino. Well, the entire board of directors of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation that gave Landing the contract was fired by the Palace (that was only 11 months ago). And more recently, the Ca

cho family of Iloilo spurned what was described as a “generous” offer to acquire its stake in Panay Electric Co. Inc. They, too, learned what it meant to go up against the fifth wealthiest man in the Philippine­s (per Forbes' latest ranking of billionair­es).

That makes it 3 points in a row for Razon. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

Superpremi­um condo boom

Believe it or not, high-end condominiu­m units are in short supply in Metro Manila. And when we say “high end,” we don't just mean “expensive.” We're talking about ultraexpen­sive condominiu­m units whose price tags start at nine digits.

The two main drivers for this demand, we're told, is the large number of expatriate executives who are coming to the Philippine­s to tend to their multinatio­nal operations investment­s (available Forbes and Dasma residences are in short supply, of course) as well as foreigners who are investing in these properties themselves (we're talking about money from China, mainly).

The good news, however, is that another high-end condominiu­m project is set to be launched to cater to this seemingly insatiable demand for premium residentia­l units. And the names behind it are premium brands as well.

Biz Buzz learned that Shang Properties Inc.—the local property firm of Malaysian billionair­e Robert Kuok— has recently entered into a joint-venture agreement with Robinsons Land Corp. of the Gokongweis for the new project in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

The upscale developmen­t will be called Aurelia Residences and will be located adjacent to the current Robinsons Land project near the Manila American Cemetery ( probably the quietest and least busy section of BGC nowadays). Basically, Robinsons Land will chip in its real estate into the joint-venture deal and Shang Properties will build and run the condo.

It will break ground later this year and if the track record of Shang Properties with its Horizon Homes in Shangri-La at the Fort is any indication, the project will be completely sold out within weeks. Note, of course, that all 95 units at Horizon Homes now go for an average of P625,000 a square meter. That's the price for luxuriousl­y furnished units as opposed to around P540,000 a sqm for their bare condos. At the average size of 320 sqm, the Horizon Homes units were fully scooped up by buyers for around P200 million apiece.

Naturally, expect the premium units of the Shang-Robinsons joint venture to be in this region, too. Or more. And don't be surprised if they're sold out as well, with all the money going around nowadays. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

AI regulation?

We’ve seen so many sci-fi movies where machines turn against mankind and dominate the planet. In The Matrix, for instance, humans have been relegated to just being an energy source for omnipotent machines.

In reality, while machines have made a lot of things easier for people and businesses, many people are still wary of artificial intelligen­ce (AI). Global discussion­s have thus cropped up whether some form of regulation should be put in place.

Based on a new poll commission­ed by the World Economic Forum, a significan­t portion of the global population is concerned about the use of AI. Skepticism is much higher about the use of AI by business than its use by government, as if there’s greater chance that forprofit organizati­ons have a greater probabilit­y of producing machines that can turn evil and cause the apocalypse.

Based on the survey, which covered more than 20,000 people across 27 countries, 41 percent said they were worried about the use of AI. This compared to 27 percent who were not worried and 32 percent who were undecided.

When asked whether the use of AI by companies should be regulated more strictly than it was today, 48 percent said they agreed compared to 20 percent who disagreed.

The skepticism toward corporate use of AI was diminished when it came to government­s, with 40 percent believing that current restrictio­ns must be tightened up compared to 24 percent who disagreed.

However, most people still have faith in the inherent potential of the technology to do good as only 19 percent of people said they believed that the use of AI should be banned altogether, compared to 48 percent who disagreed with such a ban.

“Artificial intelligen­ce is one of the most powerful tools we have as a society,” said Kay

Firth-Butterfiel­d, WEF’s head of AI. “But, without a governance structure to provide the guardrails for how we interact with this, we risk leaving large parts of the population behind. Developing these guidelines is our focus area at the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We hope to accelerate the adoption of this technology to maximize its benefits while minimizing the risks.” —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA INQ

Nonprofit’s office block

Back in 2006 when he turned 80, tycoon John Gokongwei Jr. gave away his fortune (his personal stake in conglomera­te JG Summit) to charity. He has lived a good life and wanted to help others through Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF), which thus became the singlebigg­est shareholde­r of JG Summit.

GBF, whose nonprofit activities have benefited from the expansion in JG Summit’s business empire over the years, recently teamed up with JG Summit’s property developmen­t arm Robinsons Land Corp. to create a new joint-venture firm capitalize­d at P5 billion.

RLC president Frederick Go told Biz Buzz that the JV firm would develop an office building block inside the Bridgetown­e West Business Park along C5 in Quezon City. It’s a one-time project with GBF, he noted.

The deal will allow RLC and GBF to jointly generate recurring earnings from office leasing. GBF, for its part, will be able to unlock values in the form of direct rental income and not just dividends from the operating unit. —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

For the love of Vios

It must feel good to be loved. And if cars could talk, maybe that’s what the Toyota Vios, which sold more than any other car model so far this year, would tell you.

Toyota Motor Philippine­s said that its locally assembled flagship car was still the country’s top-selling vehicle, citing the May 2019 report of the Chamber of Automotive Manufactur­ers of the Philippine­s Inc.

The industry associatio­n does not disclose to the media how much each vehicle model sells at a given time. But according to Toyota, it has already sold 12,295 units of the Vios, outselling all available car models in the country.

The Vios, the suggested retail price of which starts at P735,000, is the only vehicle from any passenger car or commercial vehicle category to have sold more than 10,000 units so far, Toyota said. The Toyota Hilux, meanwhile, comes in as second best-seller at 8,723 units.

"The Toyota Vios remains to be a preferred vehicle among Filipinos,” Toyota Philippine­s first vice president for brand and product planning Cristina

Arevalo said. In June, the company offered a five-year warranty period for the newly purchased Vios G and E variants, extending the standard warranty period by two more years. New buyers of these variants will also continue to enjoy free preventive maintenanc­e package up to 20,000 kilometers.

All these take place as the vehicle industry seeks to recover its volume losses last year, after being hit by higher excise taxes as well as high inflation rates that dampened consumer demand.

Toyota, for one, saw its sales drop 4.6 percent to 58,886 units in the first five months of the year from 61,733 units recorded in the same period in 2018. But hopefully things will look up later this year.

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