Clark: a new capital in the making?
I hope so. There’s a first concrete step toward it with the Senate finally approving a bill that supports the growth of Clark as the country’s next most important investment destination outside of Metro Manila. The bill creates the Regional Investment and Infrastructure Coordinating Hub (RICH) of Central Luzon. RICH is mandated to entice businessmen to invest in Central Luzon and promote the development of infrastructure projects in the region, thereby decongesting Metro Manila.
The trouble is a counterpart bill has yet to be passed in the lower chamber. It needs to, as the move is an essential need with Metro Manila already one of the most populous metropolitan cities in the world. About a third of the metro is prone to flooding and at risk as sea levels rise.
According to the World Bank, “population density particularly in Metro Manila has worsened since 2010 and there is no sign of slowing.” The Japan International Cooperation Agency noted that traffic within Metro Manila results in daily revenue loss of about P3.5 billion. If left unaddressed, that could rise to P6 billion by 2020. Waze also tags Manila as having the “worst traffic on earth and longest commute.” Does anyone disagree?
As I mentioned in my July 12, 2018, column, “Vision to reality”: “Manila isn’t a disaster waiting to happen, Manila is a disaster that’s already happened (try getting to work sometime). Edsa is the finest exemplar of this. I flew, by helicopter, to Clark last week and I saw the slums, the endless poverty that constricted Manila has imposed on the populace. I didn’t see any parks, let alone trees. Greed and lack of government control has destroyed what used to be the Pearl of the Orient. And with Manila Bay on one side and Laguna de Bay on the other, the city has nowhere to go but north and south. And there’s nowhere there anymore.”
The government should look at what Australia did. Canberra was created on blank ground. Today, all national offices and the parliament are there. Malaysia did the same thing with the development of Putrajaya, thereby decongesting Kuala Lumpur.
It’s not exactly a new idea. President Ramos issued an executive order in 1995 appointing Clark Airport as the alternative to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. President Arroyo formed superregions and positioned the Subic-Clark corridor as a competitive international logistics center. But little happened after — the never-ending story of Philippine governance.
Finally, the Duterte administration has started the modernization of the Clark Airport and the development of a National Government Administrative Center, which will house a number of government agencies. Secretary Tugade has already courageously transferred the transportation department to Clark.
What’s needed, though, is a fast train from Clark to Makati, not to Tutuban as currently planned. That won’t work, as travelers abhor transfers.
One industry that should be developed in Clark is the IT-BPO industry. Clark is a very attractive location for a lot of BPO companies. But for the sector to flourish, the following must be ensured: a strong internet service that is redundant, reliable and high-speed; reliable cell phone service with sufficient coverage; constant, stable, 24/7 power and water; qualified colleges that can work with businesses toward relevant training; suitable office space at competitive rates; full support of the local government, including the strict implementation of the recently enacted Ease of Doing Business Act; an airport that has direct international flights; sufficient and efficient transport for staff to get to and from the office safely and quickly; and proximity and access to residential areas where an employee population can live. And, of course, taxes that keep the industry competitive.
A Clark bill is important in helping the government realize its goal of spurring business opportunities outside of Metro Manila. Central Luzon is a major industrial corridor and could attract a larger share of foreign investments. This would also
ensure more inclusive and equitable economic growth.
It’s now really a matter of whether this will all happen or not. I’ve grown rather cynical of government plans turning into action. But maybe this time it will happen; Vince Dizon is certainly doing a good job of developing the New Clark City. And the airport terminal is on track and is expected to be completed by 2020.
But they are only components of what must be a much bigger whole. For the long-term growth of the Philippines, developing Clark is essential. We need a new capital.
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