15 August 2017

The Untold Story of the Gasoline Station in front of DLSL

Image credit:  Google Street View.
I was surprised last week when I passed by the Caltex gasoline station beside De La Salle in Lipa City to find that it had closed down. After a moment, I realized that its lease must have expired. I cannot be sure now if the lease was for 20 or 25 years, but what I am certain about is that the lease was indeed due to expire this year.

That piece of land was originally part of the property that was owned by the De la Salle Christian Brothers rather than the school. When Brother Rafael Donato became President in 1995, he began to undertake a massive infrastructure development project which would necessitate the school buying the property from the Brothers.

The newly acquired property – excepting the piece that was already leased out to Caltex – would be where the SENTRUM, the Diokno Building, the Chez Rafael and all the college edifices would soon rise.

This part I am not totally certain about now, but that front of the road property must have been leased to Caltex when it was still owned by the Brothers. If this part of my recollection is accurate, then the payment by Caltex of the rental must have been transferred from the Brothers to the school.

What I am certain about is that the piece of property was leased when there was nothing in the area but privately-owned houses. I know what the rental rate was, but prudence dictates that I do not mention it here. What I can say is that at the time the lease was signed, the amount was perfectly reasonable.

However, when Brother Rafael undertook his campus development program and enrolment started to rise, all sorts of establishments started appearing in the vicinity of the campus. Naturally, this meant an increase in real estate value near the school.

In fact, one of Brother Rafael’s friends, owner of the Philippine franchise of a famous multinational food chain, offered to lease the same property but at almost twice the amount Caltex was paying the school with. Brother Rafael needed the money for his ambitious development plan; and was prepared to cajole Caltex into raising the rental fee.

He brought me along to that negotiation meeting which was held at the now defunct Hotel Intercontinental in Makati late either 1997 or 1998. I told him I knew nothing about business negotiations – at least, at that time – but I seem to recall that his pretext was that I was head of External Affairs and, therefore, had to be present. Personally, I just felt that he needed an alalay (a personal companion).

Our stance with regards the negotiations was that if Caltex was being a responsible corporation, then it would consider assisting the school by taking into consideration the current real estate valuations. Personally – and I told Brother Rafael as much during the drive to Makati – I did not think that Caltex would budge because it had in its possession a perfectly legitimate contract with the school.

Of course, for Brother Rafael, hope sprang eternal; and he was never the sort who could be criticized for lack of trying. The meeting itself with Caltex’s representatives at the hotel was convivial, and it was Engineer Hernan Billano, Brother Rafael’s partner with regards the development plan, who did most of the talking. I sat most of the time listening and sipping coffee, which I would need to stay awake for the drive home.

Naturally, Caltex’s representatives argued against Brother Rafael’s proposal to increase the rental but predictably promised to take the matter up with their superiors. If I am being honest, I doubted that their promise would change a thing.

To be perfectly fair, were I in their shoes, I would not have budged either. I mean, the lease contract was signed in good faith as far as both parties were concerned. Caltex’s argument was that the company had also taken something of a risk when it leased the property, which also seemed perfectly valid.

At any rate, before long a letter came from Caltex with the expectable we understand your situation but please understand ours tone, just a nice way of saying “Hell no!”

In the new millennium, plans were already being drawn up, in anticipation of when the property would be returned back to the school, about how best to make use of it. The thinking was that, perhaps, that a business center could be built over it which would include the administration’s suites of offices.

I remember thinking at the time that the plans seemed a tad premature because the expiration of the contract was still an eternity into the future. Well, what do you know! Time, indeed, does fly! That eternity has arrived, and it would be interesting to see what new building the school builds over that piece of property.

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