POSTSCRIPT / August 23, 2016 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Tap Freeport execs in planning growth

THE ADMINISTRATION may want to mine the insights of past executives of the Clark and the Subic Bay Freeports for integration into a long-term plan to develop the two nodes and the 85-kilometer corridor between them served by an all-weather expressway.

Master-planning the growth of that part of Central Luzon teeming with human and natural resources could help decongest the national capital region, spread opportunities, and raise standards of life in contiguous communities.

A paper (Postscript 08/18/2016) of architect Felino Palafox Jr. centered on Clark’s potential in tandem with Subic Bay elicited reactions from former executives who had contributed to what could become, in the mind of Palafox, a megalopolis in Central Luzon.

Rufo Colayco, a former president/CEO of Clark Development Corp., expressed concern that if CDC and Clark International Airport Corp. continue “step-by-step expansion without a long-term plan along modern multi-modal logistics, the Clark airport could end up with sub-optimal facilities.”

Saying that “the basic developmental thrust taken by government with respect to Subic and Clark is flawed,” he noted that Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and CDC have been trying “to develop the two former bases as urban centers-cum-air and sea port facilities.”

“Subic and Clark are two extremely valuable infrastructure nodes that the US left behind,” he pointed out. “They must not be squandered by using them for other purposes that could easily be accommodated elsewhere.”

Colayco said he initiated the building of the Subic-Clark Logistics Corridor in 1999 when he was CDC president. The Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway built by the BCDA now runs through it. (He was appointed BCDA chair/CEO in 2002.)

Then SBMA chair Felicito Payumo, he said, saw the merit of the corridor concept and “in a way put Subic a leg up on Clark by constructing a modern container port in Subic, linked directly to Clark by the SCTEx.” He noted that Clark “has not really developed the original US Air Force facilities into an honest-to-goodness international airport.”

• Freeport officials urged: Dream bigger

IN 2011, Colayco told Joey Pavia of Punto!: “Manila is rotten. A new metropolis should rise in Clark and Pampanga for the benefit of Central Luzon.” The point was echoed by Palafox this month in his paper titled “Toward a Pampanga Megalopolis 2021 and Beyond.”

Colayco urged Freeport officials to “dream bigger” and attract big-time investments that will draw massive activities and jobs. Clark and Subic should not compete with each other, he said, but focus on their strengths to complement development in both Freeports.

He recalled to Postscript: “The National Economic and Development Authority opposed the SCTEx project when I first proposed it, viewing it as redundant in view of impending upgrade work on the existing Subic-Olongapo road which as they pointed out runs roughly parallel to the SCTEx.

“I think they better comprehended the rationale for the SCTEx when I asked them what would have happened if the North Luzon Expressway and the South Luzon Expressway had not been built, on the premise that the MacArthur and the Aguinaldo national highways were already there.”

He said another SBMA chair also opposed the Subic Container Port project on the basis that the US Navy had left behind a number of berthing facilities spread out on the shores of the bay.

“I believe the chairman finally recognized that military berthing facilities are not only not equipped with necessary equipment to handle modern containerized cargo, but they were spread out in light of the Pearl Harbor experience when the Japanese attackers had a picnic blasting a whole bunch of warships moored together,” he said.

• Tuck CIAC back under CDC wings?

PRESIDENT Fidel V. Ramos cut Clark into two parts in 1994, instructing then-CDC President Romeo David to create a subsidiary under CDC called Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC). The two entities soon evolved into two adversarial rather than complementary managements.

Colayco said: “It would be best to abolish CIAC and let CDC take on the crucial task of developing the Clark airport into a proper air passenger and cargo hub in conjunction with the Subic ocean-based cargo hub.

“Subic along with Batangas must replace Manila as a principal port of entry for a simple reason: Manila Bay is shallow and cannot accommodate modern mammoth container ships. A large percentage of our imports and exports are regularly off-loaded in Hong Kong, Kaohsiung or Singapore, stored temporarily there before being brought here (or from here going outward) by smaller feeder ships. This is not to mention that access/egress at Manila Port is hindered by choking congestion.

“The 30,000-hectare Clark sub-zone presents a unique opportunity to very quickly bring large numbers of jobs (say, 500,000 in five years?) from places like China, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore. The key is to build large numbers of ready-made factory buildings designed and built to the requirements of light, labor-intensive industries. Provide developers with the ability to literally bring such industries (and jobs) over here.

“Organizations such as Singapore’s Jurong Industrial (and its counterparts in China, etc.) have been down that road before. Now the industries there are hard pressed to survive, because the cost of labor has risen very quickly and they are searching for places to which to transfer.

“The Clark subzone can, by law, only be leased. Why not have government make a judicious selection of foreign developers who clearly would quickly build on and populate those lands?

“The BPO industry grew like a mushroom because Filipino property developers prepared buildings which were responsive to that industry’s requirements. Those developers are not likely to be interested in building ‘plug-and-play’ factory buildings because it won’t return the same level of profitability as fancy buildings in the metropolitan areas.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 23, 2016)

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