BIZ BUZZ: Foretaste of Moderna

It was only a small batch of Moderna vaccines that arrived two weeks ago, but it was enough to make a deep positive impression on its recipients and silence critics.

More importantly, the inoculation drive conducted by International Container Terminals Services Inc. (ICTSI) Foundation of tycoon Enrique Razon Jr. over the last few days has raised the confidence of other future recipients of the much awaited mRNA vaccine that was ordered by many business leaders and private sector firms.

In recent days, praise for the efficient vaccination services administered in the Solaire Resort and Casino itself—as well as at its multilevel parking garage for those who prefer the drive-through system—has been coming in thick and fast, overwhelming some of Razon’s key people who were instrumental in assembling the orders for 7 million vaccine doses from the private sector.

One particular point person is former Pol. Col. Michael Ray Aquino, who heads security operations (and other “special concerns” for the ports and gaming tycoon) at Solaire.

Biz Buzz heard that Aquino’s phone has been sounding notifications every few seconds, thanks to happily vaccinated individuals who were all only too happy to be at the receiving end of speedy and efficient jabs from the group’s health personnel.

“From the time we entered Solaire to the time we got our first jab, it took less than 10 minutes. And the system automatically booked us for our second appointment,” said one recipient.

Another said: “Thank you for helping us with the vaccination. It was a very seamless and efficient process at the drive-through.”

“Very systematic and professional, with a doctor administering the shots,” said another recipient. “Very friendly and helpful assistants, lots of parking space while waiting to see if there is adverse reaction. Immediate receipt of electronic notice of date and time of second jab.”

But it was one journalist who received her jab together with the first batch who praised the efficient system best: “Nakaka-spoil.”

Now, take this experience and multiply it by a few hundred—or thousandfold for when the bulk of the 7 million Moderna shots arrive over the next few months. Will the experience be as good? Or better? Abangan.

—Daxim L. Lucas

Vaccines for flying

More Filipinos are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, giving the local airline sector a badly needed lift.

Testing for local flights has been a costly hindrance for travelers in the Philippines. Other countries have opted for more relaxed rules for domestic travel and, in some cases, subsidized the cost of testing altogether.

But as of July 7, budget carrier Cebu Pacific reported that fully vaccinated people need only show a vaccination card instead of taking a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.

So far, destinations in its network now accepting vaccination cards are Negros Occidental province (except Bacolod City), Cauayan City of Isabela province, Cotabato, Tacloban and Virac.

The list is relatively small and the more popular destinations are clearly excluded, but it is a start.

What is certain is COVID-19 testing costs are prohibitive for travelers. In fact, Air Carriers Association of the Philippines vice chair Roberto Lim said even local government units could shoulder all or part of this burden. After all, they would benefit from an increase in safe travel.

The airlines have thus taken it upon themselves to offer inexpensive options.

Last month, Cebu Pacific offered 24-hour RT-PCR testing at P3,200 while rival Philippine Airlines responded a week later with P2,599 24-hour tests. Not to be outdone, Cebu Pacific slashed the price further to P2,500 and we’re waiting if other airlines would undercut this rate.

—Miguel R. Camus

Bataan’s digital pivot

Bataan’s aspiration to turn its free port into an international hub for game-changing technologies has raised a lot of eyebrows. And so has the estimated $2.9-billion capital-raising pipeline announced by Global Trade Exchange (GTX), which holds an eight-year exclusive license (followed by a perpetual license) from the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (Afab) to operate a digital asset exchange.

GTX, operated by DFNN Group affiliate iWave Advanced Research Group, seeks to convert various assets into digital form, giving them tokenized value, and facilitating trading in the digital space across various jurisdictions, while taking custody of the underlying assets.

The new exchange—which allows the trading of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and etherium—exists in the cloud, but it can’t touch Philippine investors and issuers as there’s no domestic framework yet to operationalize any digital exchange.

While seen by some as an ambitious project, Jose Enrique Garcia III, Bataan second district representative, is upbeat that the Freeport of Bataan could become an offshore financial center that harnesses emerging innovations and technologies.

In 2019, President Duterte signed a law amending Afab’s charter, giving it the authority to host activities in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrency.

“Practically most of our economic zones are manufacturing [-oriented]. One objective in the amendment is to try and attract investments that have something to do with the knowledge economy,” Garcia told Biz Buzz during the bell-ringing ceremony that signified the start of 24/7 trading at GTX.

In hindsight, Garcia said the amendment of Afab’s charter could not have come at a better time as the subsequent coronavirus pandemic only underscored the importance of digitalization.

“Aside from [fiscal] incentives provided by Afab, though GTX, we are able to provide them access to capital as well, which is very important,” Garcia said.

Asked about safeguards against money laundering and terrorist financing, Garcia said the Afab had put in place the necessary controls to make sure that the free port won’t become a haven for dirty money.

—Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

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