Tycoons vie for second Manila airport

MANILA • The Philippines' richest man has joined a contest to build a new airport near Manila, breathing life into the long-delayed project and drawing an immediate response from fellow billionaire and competitor Ramon Ang.

Belle Corp, part of Mr Henry Sy's SM Group, will become an almost equal partner in Solar Group-led All-Asia Resources & Reclamation Corp's US$20 billion (S$27.8 billion) proposal to construct an airport and seaport, said Mr Edmundo Lim, the venture's vice-chairman.

Mr Ang, after being told of Mr Sy's proposal, said in a text message that it's now going to be a "beauty contest".

All-Asia Resources plans to reclaim 2,500ha of land near a naval and air base at Sangley Point, south of Manila, which is struggling to cope with a rising number of flights and increasing road traffic.

The proposal competes with Mr Ang's San Miguel Corp, which offered to build an alternative airport two years ago. While talk of a second airport has been around for years, President Rodrigo Duterte's new government has vowed to boost spending on infrastructure and speed up projects.

"Sy's interest is an indication of this project's potential returns and we could see more interest from other big business groups," said Manila-based Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Holdings, a financial advisory firm. "We will have a fashion show on who can present the best plan. The reputation of an investor is important, particularly in big-ticket projects."

Mr Sy - worth US$14.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index - runs businesses that include SM Prime Holdings, the nation's biggest property company by market value, and BDO Unibank, its largest lender.

San Miguel, the country's largest food and drinks company, has expanded under Mr Ang into non-allied industries, including power and toll roads.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Tycoons vie for second Manila airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe