Tycoon Henry Sy has won a temporary restraining order against the government's sale of a 33-hectare property in Fort Bonifacio, stalling what could have been another bidding war among the country's largest developers.
The government was scheduled to hold a pre-bid conference with prospective investors next week.
The lot is located in an area known as Bonifacio South. SM and the other usual suspects want it --- Ayala Land, Robinsons Land, Megaworld, Filinvest, Rockwell Land.
But SM believes it has dibs on the prime military lot, after making an unsolicited offer of P36,900 per square meter in 2010.
The government accepted the offer, setting the stage for a so-called Swiss challenge, where other investors can make higher bids SM could choose to match.
But the BCDA made an about-face --- scrapping SM's offfer for a public bidding --- even after SM upped its offer to P38,500 per square meter.
The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) says Bonifacio South should fetch at least P13.3 billion or about P40,000 per square meter.
The government sold the nearby FTI complex for P32,000 per square meter last year.
"We felt it's too low with prevailing market conditions," said BCDA President Arnel Casanova.
SM ran to the high court, which ruled the TRO while it reviews SM's petition for the government to honor their deal.
"The Court resolved to issue a temporary restraining order enjoining respondents... from proceeding with the bidding process subject of its 'invitation to bid' and in any way disposing of the subject lot which acts tend to render the Court's resolution of the petition ineffectual, effective immediately until further orders from the Court," the Supreme Court said.
Casanova however says previous agreements with SM were non-binding.
"The deal is not consummated. SM can't demand. We will fight it off with Supreme Court. BCDA has the right to proceed with the process," Casanova told ANC.
BCDA says it invited SM to join the bidding. The auction could have again pitted SM against Ayala Land as they race to build their land banks.
Last year, the two groups fought over a Bacolod property and the Ortigas' properties.
"We have said that we're interested, yes," Antonino Aquino, Ayala Land president, said in a separate interview.
"Unfortunately, those things should have been clarified during that pre-bid conference."
Ayala Land was the winning bidder for the FTI property near the BCDA lot.
Asked on whether the government's asking minimum price is steep, Aquino said: "We don't know yet because we have to wait for the total elements we want to clarify."