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The controversial Uniwide Coastal Mall

Uniwide Coastal Mall is in the news these days because of the launch by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority of the controversial Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal in a portion of the uncompleted shopping center.  It seems, however, that the strategically located mall is embroiled in a bigger legal controversy. Uniwide Coastal Mall is in the center of a court battle between Uniwide Group of businessman Jimmy Gow and his estranged business partner Jacinto “Jack” Ng Sr. of Rebisco Corp. At one time, the Uniwide Group was rivalling the giant Shoemart for the distinction of being the biggest shopping empire in the Philippines. The Uniwide Coastal Mall was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Uniwide “empire”. Ng, through the Manila Bay Development Corporation, owns 40 hectares of reclamation property along Roxas Boulevard and he convinced his erstwhile friend Gow to lease 20 hectares of the property to build Uniwide Coastal Mall which Ng said would be the center of a Greenhills-type development. Construction of the mall was already more than 90% complete and in fact it was already partially operational with tenants already occupying the finished parts of the mall fronting Roxas Boulevard when the 1997 Asian economic meltdown happened and buried the Uniwide Group in financial turmoil. Compounding the problem of the Uniwide Group in the almost-completed Uniwide Coastal Mall was the move by Ng to file an eviction case against the Uniwide Group. Ng’s MBDC raised the eviction issue before the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center which dismissed the petition for arbitration in February 2010. Rebuffed by the PDRC, MBDC then went to the Parañaque Municipal Trial Court which ordered Uniwide to vacate the leased premises and turn it over MBDC. The Uniwide Group protested the ruling and questioned the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Court which they said has jurisdiction over case involving amounts of P500, 000 and below. The amount involved in Ng’s case is P700 million. Uniwide elevated the case to the Parañaque RTC and asked this court to release it from the onerous terms of its contract, which has ceased to exist, given that the conditions stipulated in the deal—particularly the establishment of a Greenhills-type commercial center and the sudden reduction of the original lease area of 20 hectares to just 10 hectares to give way to the Macapagal Blvd.—have also ceased to exist. It appealed to the RTC to grant its original proposal to continue paying the monthly rentals on the leased area at the old rate without the stipulated yearly increases. On November 19, 2012, the Parañaque RTC ruled in favor of Uniwide, finding that the terms of its contract with MBDC, were “iniquitous.” In its decision, the Parañaque RTC said: “The misrepresentations of the defendant (MBDC) that a business center will be developed in the area and the unforeseen construction of Macapagal Avenue which triggered a major change and delay in the construction plan of the Uniwide Coastal Mall, coupled with the occurrence of the so-called Asian Financial Crisis that hit the country’s economy in 1997, thereby rendering heavy business losses to the plaintiff (Uniwide Holdings) while the defendant was well-paid of the rentals albeit without doing good its part of the bargain pursuant to the parties’ understanding prior to and during the formation of their lease contract,—these in the consideration of the Court can be considered as inequitable conduct or accident that would entitle [Uniwide] to equitably seek the reformation of the contract.” The case is going through the appeals process. Another case against MBDC has been filed by a group of some 500 small investors including Uniwide Group rank-and-file employees who bought shares of Uniwide stocks when the company made an IPO (initial public offering) in 1996. The group led by Brenelie Rualo filed a Derivative Suit for Damages (Case No. 13-0223) against MBDC last July 31 before Branch 258 of RTC Parañaque to compel MBDC to return Uniwide’s rentals—totaling P381 million as of 2005--and pay the damages to the aggrieved parties. The group of small stockholders of Uniwide is asking the court to compel MBDC to return P381 million in rentals from Uniwide, extend the lease contract of Coastal Mall by another 20 years to allow them to recover their investments amounting to P2.1 billion and for MBDC to pay Uniwide P100 million in damages. The Uniwide Group is trying to recover its financial stability but its efforts are hampered not only with its case against MBDC but also by its fight against the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to virtually “chop-chop” its remaining assets. All these controversies surrounding the Uniwide Coastal Mall makes us wonder who the contracting party for the Southwest Integrated Bus Terminal was. Was it the Uniwide Group of the Gows or was it MBDC of the Ngs? MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino could find himself dragged into this fight if he signed up with the wrong party.
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