Measuring the Manila square meter

This essay originally appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition titledLiving Spaces: Hyperreal Estate and the Architecture of Dispossession“, curated by Alice Sarmiento. I wrote it in conversation with, and with thanks to, Alice Sarmiento, Andre Ortega, and Maria Khristine Alvarez.

Consider the average Manila billboard.

It is many times larger than the average Manila home. Perched above Manila’s hypertensive roads, it gets better breeze, sunlight, and sight lines than the average Manila home; its floodlights consume more power than several average Manila homes.

The visuals of the average Manila billboard are also larger than the average Manila life—especially when they peddle condominiums, those new average Manila homes for the 21st century. They feature models with impossibly white, impossibly smooth skins, living impossibly carefree lives of minutes-away convenience from the best that the city can offer, all under impossibly blue skies.

From a messaging point of view, the average Manila billboard needs to be larger than life. It must, after all, be heard above the jostle of shoulders, the knots in our backs, and the blare of last night’s death toll—all before we heave and lurch our way onto the next billboard.

It then needs to tell, within the limits set by 216 square meters,[1] convincing lies: small lies, about the life of grandeur possible within an eighteen square-meter unit,[2] about how the baked air takes your breath away, or about the mysterious dues and fees that await.

Fig. 1. About twelve 18m2 Manila studio units can fit within a 216m2 Manila billboard.

Continue reading “Measuring the Manila square meter”

The SEC’s i-Report database

This guide to the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission’s i-Report database originally ran as a sidebar to my collaboration with Karol Ilagan and Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

AS PART of its mandate to supervise and monitor corporate activity in the Philippines, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) maintains the i-Report database, which contains electronic copies of publicly available corporate filings with the agency. The most readily accessible registry of business entities in the Philippines, the database is indispensable for the everyday work of regulators, lenders, and investors—and was a crucial source of data for this story.

But outside a limited circle of researchers, the database has remained largely underused. This may partly have to do with its relative obscurity, or with the content and format of the documents that may seem inscrutable to lay eyes.

Continue reading “The SEC’s i-Report database”

Critical cashflow analysis: Ayala Corporation, 2015

This Sankey diagram depicts data from Ayala Corporation’s 2015 Annual Report: cash flows, both into and out of the company, from and to investing, operating, and financial activities, and total assets. Urban land and infrastructure activities emphasized.

Duterte’s China deals, dissected

As part of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s special report on Duterte’s China romance, I conducted research into the firms that signed deals during his state visit. What I found was that, among the Philippine parties to these deals include:

• firms with no track record in major infrastructure projects, no recent operating profit, and alarmingly small asset bases;
• firms and personalities that have been implicated in anomalous deals, including Arroyo-era “bridges to nowhere” and the Smokey Mountain Rehabilitation Project; and
• two firms involved in the nickel ore trade with China, one of which had been implicated in smuggling cases at Subic.

How did virtually unknown firms with no track record in bidding for—much less completing—major infrastructure projects, rise to billion-dollar prominence with the change of the administration?

For the firms that have no records with the SEC: if they aren’t registered to do business in the Philippines, how could they be party to billion-dollar deals on our behalf? For freshly-registered firms how were their directors able to both anticipate Duterte’s turn to China, and secure influence with the new government so quickly?

Given the ambitious scope of these projects, can the smaller firms, some of which appear to be seriously undercapitalized, be trusted to deliver on time and within budget? Would any sensible lender take the risk of extending credit to these firms—or will their access to capital depend on intercession from on high?”

Read the full story: Duterte’s China deals, dissected.

Other stories in this series, “Romancing China under DU30”: