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Palafox’s sturdy heart

(Article published in the Feb 9,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

Architect Felino Palafox, Jr. is an urban planner. And his heart must be from the stock of that sturdy desert flower, palafoxia. Wikipedia describes that sunflower as drought-tolerant and grows on sandy plains, dunes, deserts and rangeland. Like a sunflower, Architect Palafox did not wilt under the glare of Angara’s stare.  On the contrary, he bloomed amidst its overbearing heat.

From his days at Harvard, where he attended the Advance Management Development Program in 2003, he had believed that the time had come for the country to open its gates to the Pacific Ocean. Advances in nautical engineering and transportation technology had made the wide expanse of water between the east and the west less daunting to travel and less dangerous to traverse.  The ocean is today’s major trade route. Thus, when he was contracted to do the planning of the proposed economic zone at Aurora, known as the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), Architect Palafox put his heart in it.

His plan for APECO, bore the marks of his advocacy: green urbanism, green architecture, sustainable development. His vision caused the inclusion of “Pacific” in the economic zone’s name; though “Pacific” was not in APECO’s charter, R.A. No. 9490 and he had it appended by R.A. No. 10083 precisely to position Aurora’s ecozone right into the heart of the current Pacific Century.  Thus, until middle of last year, he was going about his business with his heart content.


But on November 11, 2010, Architect Palafox was at the Philippine Senate pouring his heart out.  He narrated to Subcommittee “B” of the Senate Committee on Finance which was then considering the budget proposal for APECO his many heart aches.  He spoke of how he had been instructed apparently on whimsical grounds to revise his plans again and again constraining him to come out with about 5 different schemes.  He told of how he met serious deficiencies, such as the technical description of the identified area by the enabling law did not, in geodetic engineer’s parlance, close.  Moreover, the preferred location did not maximize the use of existing roads and on site infrastructure; that unnecessarily lengthened the necessary access roads.  The land area was not yet even titled to the ecozone authority and, compounding this instability of legal footing, was geophicially subject to liquefaction and likely to be flooded by weather disturbances like Ondoy.  There were no background studies, no detailed feasibility studies, no business planning studies, no engineering surveys, no hydrologic surveys, and no airport planning survey and seaport study.

To Architect Palafox, and he said so in no uncertain terms at the Senate hearing, APECO was and, as it now stands, is the wrong project at the wrong place at the wrong time.

As expected, that assessment, no matter how well grounded, did not sit well with APECO’s main sponsor, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, who was also the presiding chairman of Subcommittee “B” of the Senate Committee on Finance. As he had done several times during the committee hearings, Senator Angara hurriedly put on his other hat as “the true chief executive officer of APECO”. And before calling on the former Administrator to respond to the issues thus raised, he launched an ad hominem attack on Architect Palafox.  Character attack of the opponent was the best defense he could muster for his baby.

Addressing, not the public but his fellow Senator Sergio Osmeña who had asked for a hearing on APECO, Senator Angara declared, “Let me say, Serge, at the outset that we fired Mr. Palafox as master planner. Why? Number one, because he was our master planner so he should have advised, `Please do us this consultation muna,’ he did not do that.  When he submitted his master plan and we asked the ports authority, as well as the airport, the CA—the CAAP, they said, `This is absolutely wrong, because the seaport as well as the airport are adjacent to each other.  It’s mutually dangerous to each.’ (sic) So we rejected it.” 

Number two, when he submitted to us that proposal to do the master planning of the initial 24 hectares, it was clearly understood that that already includes not only the engineering, but the hydrologic and the soil analysis. When he submitted it to us, those two important items—precisely because of his statement that it’s subject to liquefaction as well as flooding, those two critical studies were not there—the hydrologic as well as the soil.  So we rejected it despite the fact that we already paid him 30 million.  And then he submitted an additional supplement for almost 12 million, and we paid him two million for a separate study on the hydrologic and soil.  And at that point, we already judged—the Board already judged that he is not an honest planner…” 

Senator Angara then ended his maddened diatribe by addressing Architect Palafox.  He said: “We are grateful, Jun, for your conception that it must be identified with the Pacific.  I’m grateful for your help in selling the project, and as you said you believe in the project. And I know some of your clients…don’t tell us this kind of story now because it smacks to me of sour graping because we fired you as our master planner because of dishonest work.”

Only then in the exercise of the chairman’s the power of the gavel, did Senator Angara, without giving Architect Palafox the opportunity to reply, turn over the floor to former APECO administrator Vitaliano T. Sabalo, Jr. who proceeded to do what his master had bid.

A creature of lesser stuff would have wilted quickly under torrent of such torrid attack.  But not the dessert flower Felino Palafox, Jr. On the 25th of last January, a very distinguished civic and business organization instead of junking him, sang him peans.

Of Felino Palafox, Jr. it said: “he led his firm, Palafox Associates, in the planning of more 11 billion square meters of land area, and the design and architecture of more than 7 million square meters of building floor area; and in undertaking high-profile large-scale projects in 33 countries.”

The organization was the Management Association of the Philippines. The 25th of  January 2011 was when Architect Felino Palafox, Jr. was inducted by Supreme Court Justice Carpio Morales as its President. His immediate predecessor was Atty. Eusebio V. Tan, managing partner of ACCRALAW.  The “A” in ACCRALAW stands for one “Edgardo J. Angara”.