• Uniwide Sales in desperate bid to recoup lost ground

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    First of two parts

    Once upon a time, entrepreneur Jimmy Gow’s Uniwide Sales was poised to become the country’s biggest retailer, bigger than even taipan Henry Sy’s SM malls.

    In fact, by the early ‘90s, Uniwide Stores had become the country’s biggest retailer, such that by 1993 its total annual sales had hit the P13 billion mark. This, it accomplished by combining regular supermarket operations with the warehouse club concept, thereby capturing both the retail and wholesale markets.

    In playing the game of one-upmanship with SM and the other giant operators (Robinsons, Ayala, et al), however, Gow’s Uniwide Sales, Inc. ventured into mall and real estate development under the Uniwide Holdings, Inc. umbrella. In retrospect, this may be considered to be its undoing.

    Today, the company is just a shelf of its former self, and worse, is embroiled in a legal battle with the Manila Bay Development Corp. (MBDC). At the middle of that lawsuit is the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and its project to relieve Metro Manila’s horrendous traffic jams by preventing provincial buses from entering the metropolis.

    MMDA signed an agreement with Gow’s Uniwide Coastal Mall which has the makings of a sweetheart deal, and which has drawn the ire of countless commuters who live outside the National Capital Region, and who must now pay more to get to their destinations within the metropolis.

    As for Uniwide founder Gow, he is seen to be taking desperate measures to revive his former billion-peso empire, but the odds may be against him because the massive and rapid expansion of the Uniwide Group in the mid-‘90s only led to a petition with the Securities and Exchange Commission to suspend all debt payments as the decade ended.

    Recent reports say that a certain Eleanor Padagdag had come to the fore, presenting herself as the new owner of the Coastal Mall.

    Padagdag says she has bought P826.9 million in assets and liabilities of the Gow family’s Asia Amalgamated Holdings, Inc., a listed company that has since declared bankruptcy.

    Case dismissed
    Under Case No. 120816, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of MBDC, which was found to be the absolute and registered owner of a tract of land in the Central Business Park, Reclamation Area, Paranaque City which is presently occupied by the Uniwide Coastal Mall.

    Because of the CA decision, the MMDA will now have to deal with MBDC instead of Gow since the new South West Terminal is located within the Uniwide Coastal Mall’s premises. That terminal is where buses coming from Batangas and Cavite have to stop, and passengers are made to transfer to city buses, jeepneys and shuttles.

    While no fees are collected from the provincial buses, all Metro Manila-based public utility vehicles do have to pay exit fees every time they collect passengers from the mall.

    MBDC says there is no existing contract with MMDA, or at least Gow has refused to reveal such a contract, if it exists.

    That there is bad blood between Uniwide’s Gow and MBDC chairman Jacinto Ng, Sr. is no secret. The former has claimed that the latter was his former business partner who turned his back on him when Uniwide faced serious business reversals in the ‘90s.

    “We were never business partners to begin with,” Ng has told media in the public exchanges between the two men.

    For his part, Gow says that Ng “enticed” him to construct the Uniwide Coastal Mall.

    While the exchanges can boil down to a case of he-said-this-while-he-said-that, what is clear is that in April of 2005, Uniwide defaulted on its rental payments to MBDC. This was followed by a series of suits and countersuits, including a complaint filed by some 500 small investors – including rank-and-file employees of Uniwide – asking that the court compel MBDC to return P381 million in rentals, extend the lease of the contract for another 20 years (the original contract was signed in 1993), and for MBDC to pay Uniwide P100 million in damages.

    To be continued

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