Mayor Isko lures businesses to reinvest in Escolta with '15 years tax-free' promise

Businesses that will purchase land and replace Escolta's worn-out establishments with high-rise buildings will be exempted from paying taxes in Manila for 15 years, Mayor Isko Moreno said Friday as he urged investors to help the local government redeem the capital's once-bustling commercial center.

Investors will only qualify for the tax exemption if their developments will have at least 20 floors and 70 percent of their company's workforce in Escolta are Manila residents, Moreno said in a business forum in Taguig.

"Kung P1 kinikita namin per square meter sa isang taon at nagparaya ako, after 15 years, bawi na negosyante and on the 16th year Manila will have a windfall without raising taxes," he said.

"Naturally crimes will die because merong kabuhayan ang tao. 'Yun 'yung initial effect ng pagpaparaya namin," he said.


Escolta was Manila's financial district in the 19th century when the street was lined with corporate headquarters, foreign boutiques, and theaters.

Commercial activity in the area slowed down in the 90's as businesses moved to more modern and well-planned business districts, said real estate broker Wilson Lee Flores, whose family has been in Manila since 1762.

"Manila died through the decades because of urban problems like overcrowding, bad social services," Lee Flores told ABS-CBN News.

"There were no plans from the government to make the environment better. So the environment got worse and worse and taxes got very high, the market, the businesses and the consumers also left for other areas," he said.

Moreno said the incentive was meant to entice the private sector to return to Escolta and help the local government transform the river-side strip to a tourist destination that could rival Australia's Darling Harbour and Singapore's Clarke Quay.

"I want to change the skyline of Escolta but walang gusto bumili kasi bulok," the mayor said.

"Abangan niyo na, sabayan niyo na. 'Pag nauna ako [mag-tayo ng development], sayang. Magmamahal na 'yun," he said.


Moreno's "out-of-the-box" offer excites the business sector, Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry President George Barcelon told reporters.

"Compared to other cities, I have never heard of such an offer," he said. "We are excited. It is out-of-the-box."

It would be easy to convince members of the PCCI to take Moreno's Escolta deal, but business leaders would have to see the mayor's "overall plan" first, he said.

"Medyo rough pa ngayon but he sees the jewel in there," he said.

The 44-year-old mayor earlier said he would "invest" in Manila's heritage to spur tourism in the capital city that has lagged behind other Metro Manila territories in terms of development and infrastructure.

The Philippine Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry earlier gave Moreno a P20-million check to fund the rehabilitation of the Jones Bridge, the nearly-century-old gateway to Escolta.

Moreno said conglomerates from the real estate, IT and trading sectors have pledged to invest in Manila's abandoned commercial center.

He declined to name specific corporations.

"They want to see the result of what we are going to do with regard to promoting tourism in that portion of the city," Moreno said.

"There is now a level of commitment that if we can do it better there, in that particular area, then they can provide another set of donation," he said.

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