By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, Senior Reporter
THE government is looking into having other foreign white knights to acquire Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines (HHIC-Phil), with an initial eight-year rehabilitation plan on the table.
An Olongapo City court granted HHIC-Phil’s petition to enter into corporate rehabilitation on Monday. Citing initial data, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo told reporters that Hanjin has been given an eight-year window to get back on its feet, starting with a three-year grace period in order to turn around its operations.
“Based on the initial information that we got, it will take eight years — three years grace (period) and five years to repay the obligations. To the extent that you have a market and the facility continues to operate, then the issue of cash flow will be addressed,” Mr. Guinigundo said at the sidelines of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum yesterday.
“If you have the cash flow, you can pay your workers, creditors, suppliers. That is assuming that the rehabilitation framework is going to work.”
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana revealed another option being considered for Hanjin, saying that authorities are also open to expanding talks with companies from the US, Japan, Korea and Australia to buy the embattled shipbuilder based in Subic Bay.
“We talked about that with the economic managers with the President. There are several proposals like opening it to other countries as well… if they want to take over. The Navy also suggested why not the Philippines take over so that we’ll have a naval base there and have a shipbuilding capability,” Mr. Lorenzana told reporters.
The Philippine Navy is set to order 20 ships abroad in the next 10 years, he added.
An official of HHIC-Phil said on Tuesday that the company expects to return to profit three years after the entry of an investor, provided that they will be given a $12-million monthly infusion to take care of its debts and provide operating capital.
CHINA TAKEOVER OPPOSED
In the same forum, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio warned against plans to allow Chinese companies to acquire Hanjin’s massive Subic shipyard, saying that it could weaken the country’s territorial claims further.
The Board of Investments has said that two Chinese shipbuilding firms have expressed interest to take over the South Korean firm’s operations in the Philippines. This would entail acquiring HHIC-Phil’s assets as well as its outstanding debts, which stand at $412 million across five local banks and another $900 million with South Korean lenders.
“I agree with Admiral Pama and Commodore Agustin. China claims our West Philippine Sea, our islands, and if we allow the Chinese to operate the shipyard in Subic, then they can monitor everything that we do,” Mr. Carpio said.
“Why do we allow the Chinese to take a foothold in Subic when it is also our naval base, when they are trying to seize the West Philippine Sea just across? It doesn’t make sense.”
Mr. Lorenzana earlier bared that the Philippine Navy is also considering to take over Hanjin, with no less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte “open” to the idea. Another plan is to acquire a stake and eventually sell the shipyard to private firms.
Sought for comment, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said he has “not received the full proposal” so far, but that they will be gathering relevant information to explore options. For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said it remains “just a proposal,” but added that it may be a potential source of income for the state as well.
Mr. Lorenzana said all proposals are being considered, with the Cabinet likely to form a technical working group to study these further.