Saturday, March 30, 2013

Boracay Odd Venture

Boracay Odd Ventures
Ma. Angelica Maghinang – Domingo

“I don’t want to be a squatter in my own country.” This is a sentiment shared by Filipino investors in Boracay including Boracay Foundation, Inc. Board Member, Mr. Lowell Talamisan. In search of answers on how this is viewed by both foreign and local investors, I started a quest for reality. “It’s a very, very bad, bad, bad, bad situation for foreigners”, Mr. Johan Philip Van der Tak, a Dutch National, said in a low voice. I scrutinized the scenario and noticed how our profound conversation looked out of place against the picturesque backdrop which made me want to find a beach bed, put some sunblock on, get a good book, order a Cosmo and lie on my back.

I had a hard time focusing on the conversation with the scene, people’s laughter and the sound of the crashing wave on the shore tried to haul me away from my pleasurable duty. The name of the place, “Ambassador in Paradise” was perfect since just being there made me feel like I was somebody eminent. I closed my eyes for a moment, and then I got on with my task on hand. “How long have you been in business here in Boracay?” I asked Sir Joop, as he was fondly called by his employees.

“September 2007,” he said. “We bought this lot in 2002.” He first set foot in the island of Boracay in 1993 when the land was not yet developed fully. He was wearing a shirt that almost had the same shade as the sand. With his glass of beer in front of him, I decided to start asking some possibly hot questions. “What do you think about the limitations set by the Philippine Constitution about real estate and business ownership of foreigners here?” “I think that there are lots of foreign investors who will not invest because foreigners cannot own land (here) because when you come to my country, you can buy whatever you like to buy. It should be (like this), you can buy there, and I can buy here. That’s how it’s like all over the world except for this country,” he answered with a shrug. “Corporations, 40 – 60, it’s a very, very bad, bad, bad, bad situation for business because 60% are dummies. Yes, you have your anti-dummy law but (still) 60% are dummies. It’s not fair. It means that they can cheat. It’s the first part of the corruption in this country,” he added referring to the “40-60” business ownership requirement that necessitated corporation – owned businesses to have a maximum of 40% foreign ownership and 60% for Filipinos and raised his right hand to his lips as if to zip it. I asked him about the foreign businessmen’s relationship with the Filipino ones. “I have an impression that they are jealous.” He answered without further elaboration as his daughter; a tall, leggy blonde with a lovely, angelic face gave him a pat on the shoulder as she walked by.

“How do you see your business in 10 years?” I asked. He took a swig of his beer leaving the glass half – empty, and stood up to pull his chair again, sat, then crossed his legs. “It depends, those are my daughters (points to them) and if they will allow, I can put up (a) business,” he said adding that it would greatly depend on the government, if President Noynoy Aquino will be able to stop corruption.” His other daughter, equally lovely as the first one that I wondered if they were twins, passed by but not without touching her father’s cheek and touching his head affectionately. After that endearing sight, the Dutch National asked, “Do you know how many times I got threats of being kicked out of this country?” I looked at him and silently urged him to go on. “I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. It’s like they want to steal my money. Yes, I have a good feeling about this administration but I also had a good feeling with the Arroyo administration before but…” and he shook his head.

“Do you think that foreign investors will flood in if the limitations that I mentioned would be lifted?” I asked. “Of course, I know some other people who could invest their money but they don’t want to invest their money because they can’t own the land. The situation is very bad for the industry because some people do not realize what the Filipinos do, some of the Filipinos do to foreigners. They go to business with them, and then they (Filipinos) cheat them. It’s a very messy situation. I hope I could meet the President. I would really love to have a chance to talk to President Aquino,” he said. “Don’t you think that your concerns would have better chances or more possibilities of being heard if you and other foreign investors would have an organization? Or do you have an organization of that sort here in Boracay right now?” I inquired. “None that I know of, there are lots of other foreigners with same sentiments as mine but of course their keeping it in the low. There are some who would talk to me and I tell them that if you want to invest, you should first come to me so that you would not be cheated like how people cheated me and still want to cheat more,” he said and then took another sip of beer.

I thanked him for his time but he said, “Is that all? C’mon, you can ask me more questions – anything!” So I asked him what his thought are if he would be to compare businesses owned by foreigners and by Filipinos and he told me about what he do with his business here and in Europe. “There is an exchange of employees. I take Filipino workers to work for my business in Europe and I take a Dutch National to work for me here in the Philippines. This is a beautiful country. If more foreign investors would come, billions of people would benefit. For example, my secretary – Rina, are you happy that you work here?” he asked. Rina who was really accommodating to us, was wearing a pink tank top, with her hair in a bun and a bejeweled head band. She was smiling when she answered, “Yes.” I asked him about their guests, “Do you have more foreigners or Filipino guests?” “Well, we have very rich and famous Filipino guests, I won’t mention names but I focus on putting up really huge ads on European newspapers because I think bringing in European guests is important. The government is not doing it so I just do it.” He asked if I wanted to see the ads and when I said yes, he excused his self and stood up to get the newspapers.

He returned with the newspapers and showed me an editorial written about him and Ambassador in Paradise with a big picture of him and his friends, one of which was in sitting in the bar during the interview. The picture was taken in front of his business in Europe. Being journalists, he asked us for a favor, “Do everything that you can to stop corruption,’” he said and we closed the interview with firm handshakes.

The sun shone brightly for a moment in between downpours. We were talking over egg sandwich with tomatoes and orange juice. It was like a summer day in July. “Is it true that most of the business establishments here in Boracay are owned by foreigners?” I asked Mr. Lowell Talamisan, owner of Lion’s Den Resort which looked anything but a lion’s den with lush greeneries, tranquil ambiance and an inviting hammock that promised a gratifying slumber.

“Well, the owners are mostly Filipinos. Though there are some who are married to foreigners, like our president in Boracay Foundation” he said. Technically, this is true since foreigners are not allowed to acquire real property here in the Philippines and would only be allowed to have a business here only if they would get into a corporation with the 40 – 60 set-up as mentioned earlier. With what the Foreign Investments Act of 1991 stated, a minimum amount of $200,000.00 or more or less Php 8,800.00 is required as capital for foreigners who wanted to get into a corporation and have a business here in our country ensuring that the businesses owned by foreigners were bigger than the ones owned by ordinary Filipino Businessmen.

When asked about the Filipino Businessmen’s relation with foreign ones in the island, he replied, “Actually, at present, and ever since, there wasn’t any conflict. I know this, being with the Boracay Foundation, Inc.” “How about the law about land ownership for foreigners? What do you think about it?” I asked. “Land Ownership? Ako, pagdating sa land ownership, gusto ko Filipino eh, dahil I don’t want to be a squatter in my own country. That later on, it would be the foreigners who rule over us. That would be pathetic. That will be sad.” He said and shook his head.

“Some foreign investors think that it is unfair why Filipinos are allowed to acquire properties in their land and it is not, here in ours. What can you say about that?” I asked. He smiled sideways, and responded, “Well, we have to protect our interests. Unlike other countries, the well developed ones, they can give this privilege because on their own, they can stand. Whereas, Filipinos, if we do that, then we will be at the mercy of these foreigners, unlike in the States or in Europe where the government is stable so they can give this privilege, but not in the Philippines. We have to bear in mind that up to the present, third – world country pa rin tayo. Ako ayoko eh, bakit i-a-allow natin, nakikita na natin? Imagine, if all foreigners will be given the chance to own a land (in Boracay), eh lahat na ito, kaya nilang bilhin. Then what would happen? Eh ngayon nga lang yung Koreans eh, we are at the mercy of some Koreans which shouldn’t be the case. We should all be equals. That’s why we should show them. That it’s us who have the rights. What happens is that our government is so calloused. Calloused in the sense that they are indifferent with our sentiments, with what we feel, with our problems when they should be the one in front of these. Like right now, how many resorts are in the beachfront that are owned by foreigners? What happened is that they got most of them when they only have dummies. What the government should do is to be critical. How can these foreigners acquire those properties if not for dummies? They (the government) should prosecute these people.”

“What can you say about the swelling of the figures of foreigner-owned businesses in Boracay?” I inquired. “Well, that’s a welcome sign - a sign that shows that the island is getting attention. What we’re asking for is that it should be regulated so that there would be balance because if there would not be any balance, ultimately, and eventually, what would happen is that all the places here will be owned by foreigners,” he answered.

“How about the Boracay Foundation, Inc.? What is the organization about? I asked. “Well, I can say that I am one of the incorporators of Boracay Foundation and we are the umbrella organization of all the other organizations here. We make the issues in the island known to the local government and we make the endeavors of the government known to the people,” he replied.

 “Do you have members that are foreigners? I asked. “Well, majority are Filipinos both in members and in the board. In the board, we only have a foreign member who says, “I’m not a foreigner. I am a Filipino”,” he responded. When asked about how he sees his business in 10 years, he said, “I hope that it’s still doing good like it did 10 years ago.”

When I reviewed these conversations, I found more common points than conflicts. Both were not satisfied with the government – one because of its “unfair” limitations, and the other with the implementation of these laws. Both were aiming for Boracay’s prosperity. With these, I will leave you something to ponder upon. Do we need more foreign investors to boost the island’s income or should it remain a home, something that we can call our own?

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