Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Mega Regions" Extravaganza

President Arroyo will be meeting with LGU officials from the Visayas area (Regions 6, 7 and 8) to pitch her "Mega-Regions" idea. According to MalacaƱang officials, P373.78 billion in various development projects have been earmarked for the entire Visayan region. Out of this "Mega-Regions" extravaganza, Western Visayas will receive one-third (P97.72 billion) in the form of big-ticket infrastructure projects like seaports, airports, power plants, etc. Iloilo will be getting around P10.4 billion; P4.2 billion for the Iloilo Flood Control Project and P6.2 billion for the New Iloilo Airport Project. In fact, construction of the two "big ticket" projects have been going on for quite a while now.

With infrastructure projects of this magnitude, trust our politicians to meddle and unscrupulous characters to make money out of it. The Iloilo Airport project, for example, has been marred with allegations of corruption with the name of Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas being dragged into it. The Iloilo Flood Control Project has encountered delays in its implementation. But Ilonggos in general seem to have adopted a lackadaisical attitude towards the delays and the alleged corruption surrounding the two projects. The general attitude seems to be that of tolerance (“ano abi ma-expectar mo?”) and anticipation (“tani matapos na”).

DOTC officials here have promised that tourist arrivals in Iloilo will increase once the new airport is completed. Likewise, project proponents have pledged an end to the perennial flooding in Iloilo once the Iloilo Flood Control Project is completed. All in all, Ilonggos expect that their over-all quality of life will improve once the two projects are finished. But the question is, will it really?

Take for example the New Iloilo Airport Project. I originally thought that the new airport will be an international airport like in Manila or Mactan complete with immigration desks, international airline offices and international flights. But someone explained to me that the new airport will not be an international airport but an “airport of international standards.” In other words, it will still be a domestic airport; meaning Korean or Australian tourists destined for Iloilo will still pass thru Manila or Mactan. Incidentally, another domestic airport of “international standards” is also being constructed in Silay City, Negros Occidental.

I rather like the old airport. It is rustic and charming and near. It may get crowded during peak seasons and the bathroom is run-down but otherwise, the old Iloilo Domestic Airport is still okay. I do not buy what local pundits and government officials are saying that a new airport will boost tourist arrivals in the province. Having a bigger and prettier airport will not convince foreigners to go visit Iloilo. What will really draw them are the sights, sounds and smells of Iloilo. What will keep them coming back is the trademark Ilonggo warmth, charm and hospitality. Just take a look at the General Santos Airport: it is huge and spanking but it did not really bring about a spike in tourist arrivals to South Cotabato. My question is: do we really need a new airport at this point when we could not even provide our grade school students with enough textbooks and chairs? Were the people consulted? Who decided that Ilonggos needed a new airport?

Another example of "wasteful" allocation of scarce government resources is the Iloilo Flood Control Project (IFCP). According to its briefing materials, the Phase I component of IFCP (improvement of Aganan River, Tigum River and Jaro Floodway) only guarantees no flooding for 10-15 years while the Phase II component (rehabilitation of Iloilo River, Jaro River Mouth and Upper Ingore Creek) guarantees to stop flooding for 20-25 years. In other words, the IFC Project does not promise to stop the flooding permanently but only guarantees no floods for 30-40 years. This means that after 30-40 years, Iloilo will again experience flooding and our grandchildren will again have to find money to fund a similar project.

From a policy perspective, spending P4.2 billion to stop flooding in one province for a period of 35 years is okay, if we are the United States of America! But can a Third World country like the Philippines really afford to allocate its meager resources to mitigate flooding when it cannot even afford to provide basic services adequately to its citizens? Roughly estimated, Filipino taxpayers will be spending 120 million pesos a year to prevent flooding in selected portions of Iloilo City. Surely, there must be some other, more cost-effective way to solve the flooding problem in Iloilo.

The real cause of flooding in Iloilo is man-made. The unrestricted conversion of farm lands into subdivisions and the clogging of natural waterways with human garbage are the main reasons why floods have periodically inundate Iloilo. The solution is so simple and yet so difficult to implement. The ultimate solution is simply for people not to throw their garbage in the river, creeks, canals and other natural waterways. Subdivision developers must also strictly adhere to construction standards and regulations. An even if we spent P500 million to de-clog our waterways of garbage, it is still a pittance compared to the P4.2 billion we are spending for IFCP.

As usual, the challenge is how to change the mindsets of the people.

1 comment:

sadobr said...

I hope people from Iloilo and the rest of Panay realize the need of group of physicist to have their own alternative source of power