17 July 2009

Solon backs SBMA’s closure of Subic casino-hotel

Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez has expressed support to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in ordering the closure of the Legenda Resort Hotel here, which has incurred obligations to the government amounting to more than P1 billion.

Rodriguez expressed dismay over the huge indebtedness of the Subic hotel chain during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee wherein SBMA administrator Armand Arreza presented accomplishments in Subic in the past four years.

Responding to queries by the committee member on the Legenda case, Arreza also briefed the congressional body on the circumstances leading to the takeover of Legenda facilities in the free port.

Rodriguez thereupon urged his colleagues to back the SBMA closure order, which is being resisted by the Legend International Resorts Ltd. (LIRL), a Malaysian-owned firm that operates the defaulting hotel.

“We should support (Arreza) in closing (Legenda) if it is really overdue,” said Rodriguez, referring to the debts incurred by LIRL, which includes lease rentals and gross revenue shares to the SBMA and casino revenue shares to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).

Rodriguez added that the SBMA’s move to recover its assets “was the right thing to do..”

“In other words, people who do not pay should be cut off from their contracts because otherwise, (the government) will continue to hemorrhage (lose revenues),” Rodriguez said.

According to Arreza, the LIRL located in this premier free port in 1993, and was among the first foreign investors to invest in this former US naval base. However, the firm has failed to meet its financial obligations in the past few years, he added.

“When I came in as SBMA administrator (in 2005), the number one creditor of SBMA was Legenda,” said Arreza.

SBMA records indicated that the agency has uncontested receivables of P339.31 million from LIRL, representing lease arrears and casino share dating back to 2004. Together with contested receivables, the SBMA’s total claims against LIRL amount to P850.17 million.

Arreza said that while a rehabilitation plan has been approved by the court in 2006, the SBMA saw that “it was going nowhere,” thus forcing the SBMA to file a motion to terminate the rehabilitation proceedings on October 9, 2008.

On February 9 this year, the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court lifted the stay order that prevented the SBMA from collecting unpaid accrued rentals from LIRL since 2004 because of the rehabilitation plan.

Thus, on February 12, Arreza said the SBMA sent the LIRL a notice of termination of the lease on Legenda and two other properties, and demanded payment of rentals worth P836.73 million within 90 days.

Arreza also told the committee that aside from pre-terminating LIRL’s leases, the SBMA has canceled the firm’s certificate of registration and tax exemption (CRTE) and permit to operate (PTO).

This made the LIRL, which continues to defy SBMA orders, an illegal occupant of the land and an illegal business operator in the Subic Bay Freeport, Arreza added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)