Soon to rise, finally: SM City Laoag

Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
The view from the bridge
View from the bridge
View from north of the river
View from south of the river

From a city with small, homegrown groceries and department stores that close at 6:00 p.m., Laoag City in the past couple of years has built a reputation as a retail mecca, with big stores sprouting faster than you can say cheese.. or Sy.

In December 2009, Robinsons Ilocos Norte (San Nicolas technically but is geographically almost Laoag) was the first national retail chain to open in the Ilocos Region. It was followed by three others: SM Savemore in December 2011, SM Hypermart in October 2012, and Puregold in November 2012. Of the four, however, only Robinsons is a full-service mall with a department store, supermarket, cinemas, a food court, an array of shops, and an activity area. To many, the Ilocos mall scene will never be complete without a full, honest-to-goodness SM.

Even before Robinsons IN was built, there have been long-standing rumors that an SM Mall will rise in Laoag City. It has not, as you know, been realized. The search for a parcel of land big enough for the mall’s requirements took a long time. SM apparently wanted to have it in Laoag, not anywhere else, and, naturally, they wanted the place to be accessible. Conflicting pieces of information had circulated about SM having finally chosen a lot here and there, but nothing was credible enough to be believed, or at least for long.

In 2012, however, news spread that a land area along Brgy 51-B Nangalisan West (south of the river, road leading to Northwestern University) had been identified by SM Prime Holdings and that negotiations with various families that own the property were already underway. It was a difficult process, our informant (a Laoag City elective official) said, because of the usual process of having heirs of families, some of whom are based abroad, sign documents. SM also haggled with the families in terms of price. All of these went slowly but well, our informant said, and groundbreaking rites were expected as early as February last year, in time for the Laoag City Fiesta month. But then there was nothing.

The project hit a snag, our informant said, when officials of a national agency allegedly tried to extort Php 4-Million pesos from SM. Of course, this did not make mall executives happy, and they decided not to pay up. The project was thus derailed.

But all seems well now, says the informant. SM executives apparently sought the help of a top provincial official so they won’t have to lose millions to the alleged extortionists.

Indeed, the green light seems to be on and bright. Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome of 51-B Nangalisan in an interview with this writer said the land developers sought two days ago his permission for the setting up of fences around the property where SM will rise. Furthermore, he disclosed that landowners have already received payments as much as 30 percent. According to Bartolome, the property measures around 9 hectares, 8 hectares of which is within his barangay while the rest belongs to nearby Nalbo. As Brgy. 51-B’s land area is only 28 hectares, over one fourth of the entire barangay will be occupied by SM. The people from the community seem upbeat about this development. Pedro de Lara, 70, a retired firefighter who is now a part-time tricycle driver says he expects a wave of progress in their barangay once SM City Laoag opens.

In the absence of another major snag, therefore, groundbreaking could be held in a few months and by then officials of Laoag City, which is now being increasingly known more for its malls than its sunshine, may finally sing with great joy, to the tune of the SM jingle, “We’ve got it all for you.”

200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean

The most difficult column I have written by far is that of Ilocos Norte-based call centers that sell—in  ways deceptive and malicious—porn sites, for I knew it would create a stir and would affect the livelihood of those involved in the trade. I would not have done the exposé, but no one else, not even colleagues in the media, seemed inclined to do it, so I performed my moral obligation as writer and well-meaning citizen. I wrote about the subject, but only after a great deal of thought and soul-searching, on top of my exhaustive research. It was in August last year.

An investigation was conducted by the police after the matter was tackled in the city council.  Radio and TV stations also picked up the issue, thus taking off a lot of weight from my shoulders. I could have written follow-up articles, I did not.  It was enough that I brought the issue out in the open.  And I was already receiving threats on my safety.

I never learned about the results of the investigation, but I did know that these businesses slowed down and that some agents lost their jobs as a result. For their part, parents who learned about these shady activities ordered their children to quit their jobs in these call centers. It saddened me, but such sadness was mitigated with a strong hope that these establishments will eventually handle only decent accounts and, ergo, provide only decent jobs to our people, especially the young.

On March 31, while I was in the circus of computing grades, distributing class cards, and being chased by those who got red marks,  I chanced at a mini job fair conducted by Kinetic Human Division at the MMSU Batac Campus. I was happy when I saw their staff interviewing our students. I learned that they offer a lot of job openings today, and that business is booming. 

I had no doubts whatsoever that they offer today only clean jobs, jobs that our students and graduates can be proud of, learn from, and earn enough from. I know that KHD, Laoag’s largest BPO (business process outsourcing) firm, has learned from past’s lessons and is training its sights on a future so bright.

I got the chance to talk to Ms. Ethel Saliendra, human resource officer of KHD, who initially looked startled to see me around. She requested for a talk with me though, and I took it as a good opportunity to explain to her why I wrote what I wrote last year. All is water under the bridge now, I said, and that I was happy to see that things are looking up. Continue reading “200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean”

No 25 cents: Robinsons customers shortchanged

IF YOU SHOP at Robinsons Ilocos Norte–particularly in its supermarket, department store, and hardware—chances are you have experienced this, too.

Cashiers would round off your change to the nearest peso, most of the time to the benefit of the establishment, because they do not have twenty-five-cent coins.

For example, if your change is P12.45, they will give you only P12.00.  In some verified instances, the change is short, and purposefully, by as much as 70 cents.

Previously, the cashiers would ask, “Sir, ok lang po ba kung kulang ng (the amount)?  Today, though, most of them do not ask anymore, they just hold back the last fraction of your peso, and sans your consent.  They assume that you know about their unwritten policy.  They assume that it is just ok.

But even if the cashier asks, it is still not ok.  At best, the question is rhetorical, for they assume the answer: “Of course it is ok.  It must be ok.  Anyway, it is just 25 cents.”  Moreover, the consumer would feel ashamed to a cause a delay in the cashier’s work, especially when the line is long, and all for 25 cents. Continue reading “No 25 cents: Robinsons customers shortchanged”