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A new city, an old dispute

Over a recent dinner with architect Nathaniel “Nikki” Romero, younger son of Manila Harbour Center’s Reghis M. Romero II, we media women oohed and aahed over artist renderings of the proposed “Mega Harbour” project in Davao City.

It could very well be, we teased, “the next BGC,” referring to the Bonifacio Global City which is currently the hottest business-entertainment-and-residential development in the metropolis.

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The P38-billion joint public-private development venture (the Davao City government provided the land), was signed on June 21, soon after the President addressed attendees at the Davao Business Summit.

It is, said the younger Romero, primarily an urban renewal and poverty alleviation program, with many of the urban poor dwellers in the area, who make their living as fishermen, benefiting from what is known as “on-site” redevelopment. Instead of being trucked out to remote areas, which would have removed their primary source of income, the fishing families would continue to live in their old lots in the coastline communities of Poblacion and Agdao districts up to Barangay Bukana, with upgraded dwellings.

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At the same time, Mega Harbour Port and Development Inc. will conduct land reclamation and create a new township with hotels, condominiums and office buildings. The entire project is estimated to last for five years, during which it will not only generate employment (mostly of residents in the affected barangays), but also “create a new cityscape and make it highly competitive.”

Part of the overall design of the project is the use of greenery to line the main thoroughfares, the clearing of obstructions along these same passageways, and the rationalization of zoning policies.

As developers, said Romero, they are guided by the principles of “Green Urbanism,” characterized, he pointed out, “by the natural and cultural footprint of Davao where care for the environment and ecological balance shall be a main consideration.”

As the project materials proclaim, “the transformation will not only be physical—it shall uplift and improve the socio-economic standing (of residents) by way of promoting their entrepreneurial activities and providing employment opportunities.”

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Indeed, what is most striking about the project is that it is getting off the ground only now. For when you think about it, the coast of Davao seems to be ideally suited for upgrading and development, since it can serve as a doorway to enhanced commerce and trade not just in southern Mindanao but to our neighbors in Southeast Asia as well.

The “new city,” which will rise up across a channel from the redeveloped residential barangays, is envisioned as a “contiguous world-class port city” that will be a “state-of-the-art center of bustling business-cum-industrial activities, host to a central business district where BPO establishments, banks, a convention center and malls shall rise.”

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At the same time, the development will include an international commercial port, which the planners hope will attract locators from all over the region and spur the area’s transformation into an industrial and commercial hub.

Indeed, it seems that President Duterte tried to ensure that before he left Davao (after a fashion) to take up the highest office in the land, he would leave behind bright prospects for his hometown, which could very well last way beyond the six years of his term in Malacañang.

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It’s unfortunate that even as the Mega Harbour project stands ready to break ground in Davao, the Romero family itself—and its corporate family—is caught in the middle of a battle for public opinion between the patriarch Reghis Romero (the “R2” in the company name of “RII Builders”) and his oldest son Mikee, who has been ousted from the family conglomerate and now sits as a party-list congressman for “1-Pacman.”

Newspaper readers might remember the full-page ads addressing the family dispute, mostly the creation of Mikee who, in the latest notice, even tried to tug at the heartstrings of his father—and the casual reader—by making a personal appeal.

At the moment, the casual observer may not be in position to render judgment or take sides. But it’s telling that Nikki, who says he was “the last member of the family” to keep lines of communication open to Mikee, declares he cut off all direct communication with his older brother after many attempts to enlist him in a dialog with his parents ended up in failure. (Mikee and Nikki are the two sons of Reghis by his former wife, although the latter has younger children with a current partner.)

“I don’t know what happened,” Nikki says when asked to explain how things came to such a pass. “While we were growing up, he was a very good and supportive kuya. He says his attempts to take control of my father’s businesses was his way of securing our and our siblings’ future.”

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The truth of that contention may still be up in the air, but it doesn’t seem to be very effective, if true, as Mikee’s actions seem only to have deepened the fissures among the different members of the family.

Meanwhile, the wheels of business and money-making continue to spin, as do the use of political influence, legal maneuvering, publicity chasing and courting of public opinion. I don’t envy a bit the position that someone like Nikki, caught in the middle of two clashing boulders, both of whom he presumably loves, now finds himself in.

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TAGS: Davao City, Manila Harbour Center, Mega Harbour, Nikki Romero, Reghis M. Romero II
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