Landing International Development broke ground on its US$1.5 billion NayonLanding integrated resort in Manila on Tuesday, describing the project as a unique family, leisure and entertainment IR unlike anything its Philippines competitors can offer.
But the ceremony was largely overshadowed by the news that President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier fired the entire board of Nayon 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.
Speaking to local media on Tuesday morning, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had ordered the entire board and management fired during a cabinet meeting on Monday as a result of a “grossly disadvantageous” lease deal, adding that “the papers formally terminating the entire management and entire board will be issued in due course.”
There remains some confusion however over exactly which lease deal angered Duterte given that he pointed to a “ridiculously long period of time of 70 years.” Landing’s lease deal runs for 50 years.
Nevertheless, Landing was quick to respond to Duterte’s claim that he will now look to have the lease in question cancelled by issuing a statement just hours after the groundbreaking in which it reiterated its intention to proceed.
“Landing International Development Ltd, together with its subsidiaries, wishes to convey that its integrated resort project … is still pushing through and its lease contract with NPF is still valid and effective,” the company said in a statement sent to Inside Asian Gaming, who was at the groundbreaking event.
“From the group’s view point, the recent decision of the Philippine Government to replace members of the NPF board of trustees did not affect the validity of the subject contract of lease.
“Landing International clarifies that the term of lease executed between NPF and Landing Resorts Philippines Development Corporation provided for in its executed contract of lease with NPF is for a period of 25 years only commencing from the date of execution of the contract of lease. Subject to and upon approval of Landing Philippines’ application with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, the term of the lease shall be for a period of 50 years as provided for and specifically allowed by the Tourism Act of 2009 as an incentive to encourage foreign investments in the Philippines.
“Unless the lease contract is cancelled or nullified on solid legal grounds by the courts, Landing has reason to believe that it is a valid leaseholder and can legally proceed with its project.”
Confusion over the exact state of NayonLanding stems from 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.
The Philippines’ Commission on Audit (COA) subsequently ordered NPF to temporarily pause the lease agreement until Landing had obtained licenses from PAGCOR and the National Economic Development Authority.
PAGCOR issued Landing with a provisional gaming license in late July, at which time Landing quickly announced 7 August 2018 as the date of its groundbreaking ceremony.
In what proved to be a somewhat unusual turn of events, NPF chairperson Patricia Ocampo delivered her welcome speech as planned during Tuesday’s ceremony but could be seen crying afterwards. She later issued a statement of her own, saying, “I strongly deny accusations that there was graft and corruption.
“On behalf of the board of trustees of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation, I would like to thank the President for having been given the opportunity to serve the Filipino people. It is regrettable that it has come to this, but we understand that we serve at the pleasure of the President.”
Earlier in the day, Landing held a press conference in which it outlined its grand plans for NayonLanding – a family-focused IR covering 610,000 square meters of floor area including the world’s second largest indoor waterpark, indoor cultural theme park, indoor movie theme park plus 1,500 hotel rooms, a world-class convention center and a two-to-three-storey casino on the top floors of a luxury hotel.
“The key difference (to other Manila IRs) is that it will be a family, leisure, entertainment integrated resort,” said Landing COO Jay Lee. “We will have a huge attraction business which differentiates us from the existing competitors. It is something that Manila lacks.
“Manila has such a huge domestic population but there is no core family attractions currently meeting that market. That immediately positions us differently.
“The second thing that will position us is the MICE component. Our ballroom will seat 5,000 people in a column-free ballroom and will also allow us to do a lot of concerts and shows that will differentiate us from competitors in the region – not just within Entertainment City but within the region.”
The casino itself will cover 28,000 square meters with Landing looking to capitalize on its experience and customer-base at Jeju Shinhwa World in Korea to attract customers to Manila. Lee also said that the provision of premium hotel rooms was part of the strategy for NayonLanding.