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Way to inclusive growth

/ 12:10 AM March 17, 2017

This refers to the Duterte administration’s 2017-2022 Philippine development Plan (PDP) that seeks to achieve an economic growth that benefits the country’s great majority or “inclusive growth” (“Gov’t OKs dev’t blueprint,” Business, 2/22/17).

To achieve this objective, I suggest that our economy’s guardians take a cue from Cabanatuan, a hitherto underdeveloped component city of Nueva Ecija, which today, based on an Asian Institute of Management survey, is one of the Philippine cities that have attained inclusive growth.

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Cabanatuan used to be a virtual powder keg. Intense and oft-bloody political rivalries hampered progress for decades. The periodic simmering atmosphere of tension ensured that Cabanatuan remained on the back burner.

Things changed in 1998, when Julius Cesar “Jay” Vergara was first elected mayor. Vergara immediately established rapport with the Nueva Ecija provincial government, with whom the Cabanatuan city government was traditionally at war. He then embarked on the program, “Pagbabago at Progreso” (Reform and Progress) and crafted a master development plan that provided direction and guidance for the city government’s operations, putting emphasis on efficient and effective urban zoning, designing and infrastructure.

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With peace reigning in the city, its development program got off the ground. New and alternative roads, bridges, school buildings, including World Bank-funded, modern integrated drainage, sewerage and water treatment facilities — the first for a developing Asian city — were constructed to complement existing facilities for telecommunications, water, electric supply and transportation.

Vergara then pushed for bold, innovative measures that streamlined the cash-strapped and bloated bureaucracy. He initiated programs to ensure transparency and accountability in the city government’s transactions. He caused the adoption of a new tax revenue and investment code that authorized reasonable tax increase on business and real estate property, and intensified the city’s tax collection drive.

The flurry of measures sparked dramatic results. From personnel reorganization alone, the city government earned a whopping annual savings of P137 million, enabling the city to offer handsome retirement gratuities to its excess employees; expand the coverage of its services and programs for health, education, housing and livelihood (for the marginalized), food security and public safety; and provide salary increases, additional fringe benefits and logistical incentives to city employees.

Today, thanks to the new network of roads and bridges, and basic facilities (drainage, sewerage; water treatment, power, transportation, telecommunications, and potable water facilities) and other investment come-ons like stable peace and order, low business tax rates, one-stop shop, and tax holidays for new business applicants, Cabanatuan’s development pace has shifted to high gear — as evidenced by the seemingly non-stop inflow of investments to the city.

Last year, based on the record of the city’s Business Permit and Licensing Office, some 838 new businesses were set up in the city, bringing to 4,659 the total number of registered business establishments with combined capital investments of P1.1 billion as of Dec. 31, 2016. Seemingly unstoppable, the investment inflow brings with it countless revenues to the city coffers and direct and indirect work opportunities and, in turn, a better quality of life for the city’s vast majority.

Cabanatuan City has shown to the national and local governments the way to inclusive economic growth.

PRUDENCIO E. MAGPAYO, Barangay MS Garcia, Cabanatuan City

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