Sunday, February 6, 2011


Two men seemed to prefer standing in the shadows at Vice President Jejomar Binay’s four-day visit in Washington DC last week.

Henry Sy Jr. is the scion of the multi-billion SM retail chain empire. He is also president and CEO of the equally expansive National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) that owns the power lines in the country.

Dr. Jack Arroyo owns the American Eye Center that specializes in Lasik procedures. He also sits as director of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) that administers the country’s national health insurance program.

Henry Sy Jr. with business buddy Dr. Jack Arroyo

Sy is CEO of SM Development Corporation which is responsible for real estate acquisitions, including the construction of condominiums that he says targets the Pinoy middle class market.

They are only starting to tap the overseas Filipino market.

“I’m a relative late-comer,” he told this writer, “I did not know too much about the international market.”

This, from someone who helps run 40 malls – 7 of them overseas (6 in China and one in Guam).

“Real estate is very big business,” he stressed. They’re investing P22 billion to build 10,000 affordable housing units.

They’re on a building binge designed to provide added value to their malls.

Not surprisingly, their hottest selling “My Place” properties are in Makati and another one adjacent the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

“It’s near almost everything any Filipino needs – a view, hospitals, access to transportation, churches and yes, a mall,” Sy averred.

He emphasized the affordability of their units – priced mostly below P2.5 million (about $58,000) – that he said would exempt them from the Value Added Tax.

Overseas Filipinos comprise about 15% of their market but Sy added, they want to increase this to 20-25%.

Their OFW customers come mostly from the Middle East and Europe.

Sy conceded they haven’t fully tapped the Fil-Am market because of the real estate crash that’s fueled the worst recession in the US since the Great Depression.

“It depends on the US economy but there are signs it is picking up,” he said.

Dr. Arroyo is also eyeing the Fil-Am market to expand the Philhealth, claiming the Philippines’ health insurance system was superior cost-wise to the American system.

He cited his experience with Lasik, a technology developed by Americans in the 1990s, but where they’re now lagging behind practitioners like those in the Philippines.

“The FDA became restrictive, they’ve become more afraid” Arroyo told this writer, adding “America’s troubles with health insurance all boils down to a break down of trust, of patients with their doctors and doctors with their patients.”

He said Fil-Ams who may be reluctant to undergo Lasik in the US, often go home to get the procedure.

“America has become a throw-away society,” Arroyo concluded.

He said they’ve treated over 35,000 persons already, including many past US ambassadors to Manila.

He said about 80% of Filipinos are now covered by Philhealth.

But he lamented not too many overseas Filipinos have heard about the insurance agency’s achievements.

Arroyo revealed OFWs can enroll themselves or a member of their family for P1,200 (about $28) a year.

They cover both in-patient and out-patient coverages as well as special packages for normal birth delivery, newborn care and TB treatment, among others.

“Here in America a large part of the cost of health insurance is the astronomical cost of malpractice insurance,” Arroyo averred.

“And that’s why in the Philippines we can manage on just P1,200 a year,” he said.

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