Analysis: Manila's new fist full of dollars

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Trump Tower lobby

With Manila fast becoming one of the region’s property market giants, the city’s transformation is not only fast and furious, but also favoured by celebrities and global tycoons, and even the people you thought were in control are less than sure what the future holds.

Driving along Manila’s historic Roxas Boulevard I’m temped to boot up the iTunes to a little Sergio Leone. A nostalgic vibe for one of those esoteric Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. There’s a keen mismatch to the voices and imagery, which go from, stark, bare to the bone reality to the weirdly abstract. All in the matter of a few shattering frames.

Never mind, my memory is littered with thoughts of what once was the leading city in Asia. Of course Ferdi Marcos is just a distant memory and Imelda, well she’s been back for years. I thought I saw her shopping for shoes in Greenbelt yesterday afternoon but the apparition vanished before my eyes.

Manila Bay is now a hive of construction activity with the vision of Pagcor City set to compete with Macau’s Cotai Strip. Costner and his Field of Dreams, but damn they are building it. And it’s coming up fast, nearly like a Filipino version of Jack and the Beanstalk.

A night spent at Resorts World mega hotel and gaming complex the night before, saw a mix of both international visitors and local businesspeople eating, meeting and yes, there was shopping. Retail has always been big in the Philippines. It must be those American roots. Never mind those clichés of a karaoke nation, or those rather not nice comparisons to a Banana Republic. Sure they recruit film stars for Presidents, but I come from a country which managed to elect Ronald Reagan, so I’m in no position to judge anyone at all.

The commercial district of Makati still manages to amaze me. An iconoclastic modern vision by the Ayala clan has become the storefront of a nation. Frankly speaking if I could live work and recreate in Makati without ever venturing outside, I’d move in a minute. Sure

the contrast are huge, from the chaotic backdrop of one of Asia’s worst airports, I am constantly assured the new terminal will be opened any minute. Blinking, my mind recoils to the same phrase told over the past 2-3 years, or is it longer?

Never mind this is the new Manila. A vibrant real estate scene has not only lured Donald Trump to offer up his residential brand but even Paris Hilton. Yes, so that’s were she has been all this time. I wonder if Lindsay Lohan will hit the scene anytime soon as well. A strong stock market, soaring land values and that steroid to the GNP, overseas remittances by overseas Filipino workers. Yes, ultimately so much of this money earned abroad is redistributed back into the local economy, and real estate gets a huge share of the cash.

Heading over to Fort Bonofacio with its impressive stock of commercial office buildings, high-rise residences and soon to be built luxury hotels. This place is going to give Makati a run for dear life. Market sentiment remains a touchstone or perhaps a mirror image of an ageing beauty queen. There is little doubt that Manila remains Asia’s best-kept financial grandstand event of the moment. The clash of old and new, rich, poor and those climbing the ladder of success all make for a glorious human soundstage. I finally found the soundtrack I was looking for, I hit the virtual play button and settle in for a palatial ride. No doubt there will be a few quirky turns here and there, but Clint always comes though in the end.

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