Amid concerns raised over the construction project in an urban forest, billionaire Enrique Razon said it was Nayong Pilipino Foundation that chose its site for the planned mega vaccine center.
In an interview with ANC’s Headstart on May 13, Razon, director of the International Container Terminal Services Incorporated, said Nayong Pilipino’s location is accessible to the public and was therefore chosen as the venue for the vaccine facility.
The foundation previously said the construction would require nearly 500 trees to be cut down. The move would kill one of Metro Manila’s last green forest ecosystems at Nayong Pilipino the current management said as it opposed the project.
“A mega-vaccination facility that will destroy this ecosystem would be a disaster and a disservice to the residents of Metro Manila who need more green and open spaces,” part of it read.
Nayong Pilipino Foundation’s executive director Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto reportedly resigned following a word war with Razon.
An about face?
Reporter Karen Davila initially asked Razon to confirm reports saying that the NPF offered the site to them. Razon clarified that the NPF did not offer the site, rather, it suggested to Razon’s ICTSI which part of the park the facility could be erected.
“To be clear, they did not offer the site. They told us what part of the site to use,” he said.
It was Razon’s team that proposed, financed and built the large quarantine facility inside the NPF in Parañaque City in 2020. The national government considered it as the largest in the National Capital Region.
This 600-bed capacity isolation center is currently manned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Health Service Command.
Razon then proposed to have a vaccination center, an “outdoor” one, on the same site through a letter to the Department of Tourism and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat eventually endorsed this letter to the NPF Board, he recalled. It was this time when the latter pointed to the part of the land they could use to build the vaccine center.
Razon also stressed that his proposed vaccine hub will be complete with electricity, sewage and other important utilities.
“We are not stupid. We’re not going to put a vaccination center without water, electricity when the vaccine itself requires very special handling at very low temperatures,” he said.
When Davila asked if he thinks there are “business interests” with the turnaround, he supposed that the NPF might have “interrupted some ongoing deal.”
“It’s very suspicious. We must have interrupted some ongoing deal. You have to look at behavioral patterns of people why they do things. There’s always a motive behind that,” he said.
“They did make a comment when the letter was endorsed to them that we did not give them credit as the DOT and the IATF did not give them credit for the mega quarantine center. If the motive is that shallow, then she should definitely be pulled out,” he added.
On accessibility and tree-cutting
Razon also said the NPF’s location is the “most accessible” in the area.
“It’s the most accessible site. Across Roxas Boulevard, you have Skyway, you have CAVITEX that leads to the whole NAIA Expressway. Who is saying they could not get to the site?” he said.
These thoroughfares or access points, however, are mostly passed through by private vehicles and are largely inaccessible to the commuting public. This was pointed out by some social media users.
“Obviously Razon’s version of ‘accessibility’ is private car transportation. I bet you he does not even know na wala masyadong dumadaan na public transportation diyan,” one user said.
Razon also claimed no trees will be removed with the construction.
“There are no real trees there. It’s talahib and ipil-ipil. Ipil-ipil grows in any empty property all around here or anywhere. These are weeds that grow. And if Nayong Pilipino even planted one tree there, of course, we wouldn’t cut it down,” he said.
Some social media were still not convinced and argued that a central facility is not practical.
“But why centralized? If the goal is to vax as many as possible, why not bring vax to the people instead of having people come to a central facility?” one user said.