Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was firing the entire board of Landing International’s local partner, just as the two parties broke ground on a $1.5 billion theme park in Paranaque City.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the announcement regarding the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) at a press conference minutes after the ceremony, arguing that the 70-year land lease would be “grossly disadvantageous” to the state.
“Sorry to burst your bubble, people, but the president said that is grossly disadvantageous to the government,” said Roque.
He said Duterte gave the order on Monday, August 6, during the 28th Cabinet meeting in Malacañang.
“He therefore announced that he was sacking all members of the board, management of Nayong Pilipino. The papers formally terminating the entire management and entire board will be issued in due course,” he said.
Following the announcement, NPF chairperson Patricia Ocampo said she would abide by Duterte’s decision to fire NPF’s board of trustees and management team, but denied any wrongdoing.
Ocampo denied that NPF top officials were involved in alleged graft over the lease contract for the integrated resort.
“[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,” she said.
Ocampo also said that the term of the lease for the project is for 25 years starting from the date of execution of the lease contract and not 70 years as alleged by critics.
Hong Kong-listed Landing International later reaffirmed the lease details in a separate statement. Monthly rentals were pegged at P360 ($6.8) per square meter, and the advance rental amount was placed at P827.05 million. On top of this, NPF will receive additional monthly rental equivalent to 10 percent of net profits from the operations of its attractions and theme parks, exclusive of the value-added tax.
According to Roque, Duterte also ordered the cancellation of the lease deal. He did not know if charges will be filed against the NPF officials.
In a statement, Landing International said the decision to replace the top officials of NPF “did not affect the validity of the subject contract of lease.”
“Unless the lease contract is canceled or nullified on legal grounds by the courts, Landing has reason to believe that it is a valid leaseholder and can legally proceed with its project,” the statement read.
Market regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, granted Landing the license to build the project in July.
Landing Philippines’ IR planned to “embrace the entire concept” of promoting Filipino heritage through the theme park, Ocampo said during the event.
“We all came here from different walks of life, because we had one purpose, one vision of helping our country,” Ocampo said.
NayonLanding was expected to include a Pilipino Theme Park, convention center, hotels, offices and commercial facilities in a nearly 100,000 square-meter space.
According to Landing, it will expand their footprint into Southeast Asia following its opening of Jeju Shinhwa World, one of the largest family-oriented integrated resorts in Northeast Asia. It will leverage on the growing brand equity in Jeju Shinhwa World to attract more tourists in the region to visit the Philippines.
“When opened, the Integrated Resort will create up to 10,000 jobs and is expected to attract an additional 2 to 3 million foreign visitors to the country,” said Landing Chairman and Executive Director Dr. Yang Zhihui at the ground breaking ceremony.
Duterte previously expressed a distaste for gambling and declared a moratorium on the approval of any new casino licenses.
In April, the government also shelved a plan by Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd to build a $500 million integrated casino-resort on the holiday island of Boracay, just a month after the gaming regulator approved the project