Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Saturday, March 17, 2007

BCDA at 15


The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which turns 15 Monday, is a picture of a young man going "from strength to strength."

For a youthful company, BCDA has already chalked up huge accomplishments older companies have yet to achieve. It could be because it began with an inspired vision, and started off with a big boost from an enabling law - Republic Act 7227.

With a vision to convert former American military bases and selected Philippine military facilities into economic engines of growth, BCDA started off with huge assets in its hands. These include the former US bases - the Clark Air Force base, Poro Point in La Union, Camp John Hay in Baguio, and the Nichols (now Villamor) Air Force Base south of Manila.

BCDA also took over Philippine military facilities, notably Fort Bonifacio.

It could have been easy, though, to allow these facilities to rust away, remain unproductive or sit still as fair game for vested interests in search for prime pieces of real estate.

Fortunately, that did not happen - and credit goes to the BCDA boards, past and present, that made sure these former military installations are put to good use to create jobs, bring forth new industries and commercial centers, and thus shore up the financial situation of a country in great need of cash to fund infrastructure development.

BCDA’s developmental thrust rests squarely on the shoulders of a mild-mannered retired four star general - President and CEO Narciso L. Abaya. His is a familiar name: He once was chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines whose loyalty to the civilian government was demonstrated amidst what usually shook the foundations of a fragile democracy.

President Abaya’s military stint, though, does not show in his amiable countenance, reminding us of the ultimate compliment for a soldier - "an officer and a gentleman." Let not the gentle façade fool you, though. Behind a face that reminds you of rare serenity - and a voice that does not go higher than the decibel meant for intimate talk - is a character unfazed by open challenges thrown by politicians and uncalled-for criticisms emanating from quarters out to extract concessions from him.

The construction of the longest expressway, the 94.5-km stretch called the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), was supposed to be the crucible of fire for this CEO, and he has emerged stronger and more confident in his ability to deliver the first package of roadway on time before year-end. Was it an easy travel down the road?

It was not. Building a new highway passing through communities and cutting through barriers is fraught with possibilities of public resistance, unrest - or even public anger.

Fortunately enough, this military man-engineer-management executive continues to use a different approach for winning hearts and minds (a favorite military catch word) and coming up with win-win solutions for mostly right-of-way issues and negotiations with local executives.

Of course, credit must also be due President Abaya’s board members and team of executives. Managing "group think" requires a virtuoso in motivating a pool of strong individuals who are tasked to manage and operate a number of subsidiaries or joint ventures. The fact that this government corporation is being run professionally like most admired private companies says a lot about the leadership dynamics inside this diversified group.

There is never a dull moment in the life of BCDA - while building the longest expressway, making partnerships work in Camp John Hay, Poro Point and Serendra in the Fort, and shaping policies to attract locators to a number of economic zones, notably Clark Development Corporation (CDC).

The latest development which summoned President Abaya’s reservoir of leadership skills was a Supreme Court ruling that nullified the tax incentives of ecozone locators earlier granted by an Executive Order (by then President Ramos). Joining up with the initiatives of equally driven Levy Laus of CDC, Abaya and his team made several pitches to our senators and congressmen to restore the incentives.

The Abaya-Laus tandem would not accept "no" for an answer - because that would mean the global companies would pack their bags and go elsewhere where policies are investor friendly and predictable. Again, by dint of good fortune and hard work, both houses of Congress restored the incentives.

At 15, if BCDA were a teenager, it would be flexing its muscles, be fired by ambition, wasting youthful energy on unplanned activities and be a little reckless. Thankfully enough, BCDA has chosen to pick up positive things from the youth - tremendous energy, unwavering enthusiasm and prodigiously wise in its choices of visions, involvements - and even corporate battles.

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