16aug18-War jitters delay Clark, Subic plans?

POSTSCRIPT / August 18, 2016 / Thursday
War jitters delay Clark, Subic plans?
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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A PAPER titled “Toward a Pampanga Megalopolis 2021 and Beyond” sent by architect Felino A. Palafox Jr. dusts off the plan to have Clark International Airport (CRK) operate as a gateway twin of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in the congested national capital 90 kilometers away.

Also part of that grand design is to upgrade the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and develop both sides of the 85-kilometer corridor linking it to the Clark Freeport in Pampanga through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) to spur growth in Central Luzon (pop. 22 million).

Subic and Clark used to be US military bases, among the biggest outside the US mainland. Their military past and the present tension in the South China Sea occasioned by territorial disputes appear to have hampered the upgrading of Clark airport and Subic sea port for commercial use.

The former US bases, among several “agreed locations,” have been marked for priority standby use in case of rapid mobilization under the Phl-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Will their commercial use then take the back seat?

Clark boasts of parallel 3.2-kilometer airstrips built to exacting standards by the US Air Force from way back. To the west facing China, the base is shielded by the Zambales range. Subic has an airfield too, a deep basin and repair shipyards that are guarded as in a giant cove.

But if China continues to control nearby Panatag (Scarborough) shoal 120 nautical miles west of Zambales and sets up missiles after developing the site, logical targets Clark, Subic and Manila would be within destructive range.

Under such contingencies marked by aggressive Chinese land-grabbing, will the government compromise its plan to have Clark absorb excess air traffic in the cramped NAIA and to have Subic handle additional flights and the shipping of raw materials and exports of the freeports?

In his last year in office, President Noynoy Aquino approved P7.2 billion for the Clark terminal’s upgrading to international standards and installed his cousin Emigdio Tanjuatco III as CRK president/CEO.

We thought those were signals that the twin gateway plan was about to take off. There was momentary cheering considering that NAIA, whose 440-hectare area is a mere fraction of Clark’s 2,000 hectares, was bursting with excess capacity and compromising the safety of air travelers.

But CRK expansion plans were put on hold when EDCA dropped on Malacañang amid its territorial tiff with China and the pivoting of US armed forces to Asia-Pacific even without bases to host them.

President Rodrigo Duterte has not detailed his plans for Clark and Subic, if any, but he is aware that the US badly needs strategically located bases in this its former colony facing the mainland across the South China Sea.

• Why Pampanga as a megalopolis?

TO BEGIN answering that question, Palafox pointed out: “Pampanga is three times the size of Singapore and two times the size of Hong Kong. On the other hand, Clark is bigger than Makati, Mandaluyong, San Juan, and Fort Bonifacio combined!”

Since 1998, the outfit of Palafox has master-planned the area of Clark and Subic, part of its promoting urban growth centers as counter-magnets to the primacy and attractiveness to in-migration of Metro Manila.

He said: “The success of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai are greatly hinged in the efficiency of their airports and sea ports. If we utilize and increase the efficiency of the Subic Bay port and Clark airport, it has the capacity to become the gateway to Central Luzon for goods and supplies. It also has the potential to be the gateway from Metro Manila.

“Warehousing is already a thriving business in Clark and Subic, and the SCTEx has significantly decreased the time travelling between Manila, Clark, and Subic. More importantly, Clark and Subic have direct access to the rest of Pampanga, Central Luzon, and Metro Manila.

“Apart from being a strategic location for operation and distribution, Subic and its adjacent areas have a forest cover that is intact. Sustainable eco-tourism and indigenous and cultural education will become part of the identity of Subic and Clark. It also serves as an ideal drop-off point towards the coastal communities and beautiful shorelines of Zambales, Bataan, and ridge views of the waterfront and mountains.

As for Pampanga’s suitability, Palafox said:It has the necessary geographic features and infrastructure. It can be a megalopolis with urban growth and development triangle, composed of three metropolises: San Fernando-Lubao, Angeles-Clark, and Porac-Subic. It has a fully functioning seaport and distribution center, an international airport, and is easily accessible through the national highway.

“What makes the geography of Pampanga, with Clark and Subic, unique is that it can become both an Agropolis and an Aerotropolis. The central district of Clark can develop more compact vertical urbanism with mixed-use and multi-use smart development, also using the best practices in urban planning, land use, transportation, tourism, architecture, and Infrastructure.

“It has the potential to become the next financial and business center outside Metro Manila. The surrounding areas of the central business districts are integrated with the agri-industrial lands and tourism areas of Pampanga. Maybe we should take inspiration from the best practices elsewhere in the world in terms of agri-industrial planning and urban development.

“With proximity to the farms, the price of food will be more affordable, and the markets will serve fresh meats and vegetables, reducing food miles, and creating a more sustainable, integrated urban-rural development.

“It is also time we relocated some government centers outside Metro Manila. This alone will at least affect a million families to move towards more affordable housing, and better quality of living. Clark is a strategic location for government centers and Subic for embassies and other urban land uses.”

 

(First published in The Philippine STAR of August 18, 2016)

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