By Miguel R. Camus, Inquirer Business

Ayala Corp. is selling the concession of the 4-kilometer Muntinlupa Cavite Expressway (MCX) to billionaire Manuel Villar Jr. as the Zobel-led conglomerate continues to shed noncore assets.
The divestment of its 100- percent stake in MCX Project Co. Inc. to Villar’s Prime Asset Ventures Inc. also marks Ayala’s exit from toll roads—a segment it had difficulty scaling up given fierce competition with larger expressway operators San Miguel Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.
Ayala said in a stock exchange filing on Friday it would sell the project company to Villar, who controls vast landholdings around the MCX, for P3.8 billion.
It added in the filing the process of transferring ownership was under way after the Department of Public Works and Highways gave its consent on March 10.
The P2-billion MCX was the first Public-Private Partnership (PPP) deal to be awarded during the previous Aquino administration.
Ayala was awarded the 30-year MCX concession in 2011 after beating competition with a winning P902-million offer that was triple the floor price set by the government.
Realignment
The conglomerate said the sale of the MCX was in line with a major business realignment to “sharpen its focus on the continued expansion of its core businesses in real estate, banking, telecommunications, and power, and scaling up its emerging businesses in health care and logistics.”
Ayala said in the filing it wanted to raise $1 billion (P52.5 billion) through the partial or complete sale of noncore assets by 2023.
“The proceeds will be used to fund future investments and further strengthen the company’s balance sheet,” Ayala said.
Ayala had bagged other infrastructure PPP deals, including the Light Rail Transit Line 1 extension with Metro Pacific, but it faced challenges in its efforts to expand the toll road segment as rivals stepped up.
One controversial episode was the 2014 cancellation of the first Cavite Laguna Expressway PPP auction even after the venture formed by Ayala and Aboitiz Equity Ventures submitted the highest offer.
Then President Benigno Aquino III ordered a rebid after it was revealed that Skyway operator SMC, which was disqualified due to a typographical error in its bid submission, had offered to pay over 70 percent more than the Ayala-Aboitiz tandem.
The project went to Metro Pacific, the operator of North Luzon Expressway and Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway, the following year after the infrastructure giant submitted an aggressive offer of P27.3 billion. This was 135 percent higher than the original Ayala-Aboitiz bid.
Ayala also teamed up with Aboitiz, Andrew Tans’ Megaworld Corp. and the Sy family’s SM Prime Holdings Inc. to bid for Laguna Lakeshore Expressway and Dike PPP project. However, the project was scuttled along with several other PPP plans when the Duterte administration took over in 2016. INQ