CEBU, Philippines — Its ability to catch up with overwhelming expansion is the real challenge that Cebu must face in 2020 as the province is in danger of getting suffocated by its own growth, business leaders said.
They believe that the province may suffer from urbanization doldrums with its laidback infrastructure as the main culprit.
Philip Tan, past president of the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), said Cebu’s infrastructure inadequacy is “killing us softly” because a growing economy needs to be supported by infrastructure. These two, he said, must go hand in hand.
“If the cycle is broken because of [lousy] infrastructure, we are doomed,” Tan said. He called on government officials to prioritize infrastructure development.
“Cebu’s own success will be its own demise,” Tan underscored.
Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) President Virgilio Espeleta shares Tan’s sentiments and call for government officials to step up.
With everyone wanting to partake of Cebu’s economic-fest,” Espeleta said the fate of the province this year will depend largely on its infrastructure.
“Seriously, we need a lot of catching up,” he said.
Persistent problems on traffic, garbage, flooding, and water has to be given attention.
“We even quarrel about this problem. Now, Cebu is on the verge of collapse, if those in the government will not act on this immediately,” Espeleta said.
Lasting Solutions Needed
Instead of pursuing big ticket projects and spending on sound urbanization planning, Cebu’s decision makers in government have been busy building projects that do not provide lasting solutions.
While the iconic and world-class new Mactan International Airport is helping the province chase the speed of its fast growing economy, this alone cannot solve the problem. The upcoming third bridge that will connect Cebu City to Cordova town is even considered a “band aid” solution, Tan said, as the problem on traffic could have been acted upon years ago when the population and transportation build were not as bad.
“Cordova project is [only] a band-aid solution,” Tan said.
He said the government officials, too, have spent so much time arguing which mass transport is best for Cebu, instead of arriving at a decision and a solution.
Business leaders warned that 2020 is a make or break for Cebu and leaders in government must play their cards well.
Tan said Cebu should stop believing in “sweet nothings,” especially from politicians. “We have to act and save our Cebu,” he said.
Espeleta said, however, that the business sector still hopes that a mass transport system in Cebu will be a banner project of the Duterte administration here.
There may be no stopping Cebu from growing economically but business leaders said government officials must address the problem of water, which they consider as a “red flag”.
“Water is an urgent call… Cebu’s biggest challenge is water,” Tan said, describing the state of water supply as “a disaster.”
He urged government to put more teeth on laws that protect the people’s right to access to basic needs, in this case, water.
MCCI President Stanley Go agrees, saying a stable water supply should be a top priority for government, what with a rosy economic outlook for Cebu this year with many hotels being built and about to open, with more tourists deciding to live here, with more workers migrating from other provinces, with more companies and malls operating, and more residential areas like condominiums opening.
Water technology expert Antonio Tompar said Cebu can access many solutions to the problem of water supply if it does not allow political power play to get in the way of things.
Tompar, the president of bulk water supplier Mactan Rock Industries Inc., (MRII), said Cebu is suffering from water scarcity because it is sourcing largely from ground water, which is already dried up and polluted.
“Surface water is the answer,” he said.
Officials should also consider other alternatives like treating water from rivers and creating water catchment dams for rainwater.
“There are now technologies which can be treating surface water,” Tompar said, adding, that water desalination cost is even much cheaper now with the advent of newer technology.
He believes that Cebu won’t get thirsty if government leaders will act on the problem accordingly and set political agenda aside.
Experiencing and foreseeing these ill symptoms of urbanization imbalance, the private sector is calling on Cebuanos to join hands in putting a pressure on their leaders in government.
“Everybody has to do their share,” Espeleta said, adding, that politicians have to be pressured and be monitored so they will do what they were elected to do.
He said Cebuanos must take an active stance in protecting their right to good infrastructure and access to stable supply of water, among other basic social requirements.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to get our acts together. We also need the national government’s attention on Cebu’s [alarming] situation,” Espeleta said.
Cebu’s robust economy will still be fuelled by its star economic drivers—tourism, real estate, and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing).
Based on the projection made by renowned economist Bernardo Villegas, Cebu will also take a huge chunk from food, fashion, furnishing, and fun.
He said tourism will bring more money to the economy this year with food, fun, and fashion as revenue streams. Businesses that deal with these kinds of services will thrive, he said.
Cebu’s declaration as a designated UNESCO “Creative City” in design category is not only a boost to tourism, furnishings, but also in real estate.
Aside from more tourists coming to visit Cebu, the province is seen to draw strong interest from global investors, especially in real estate.
“We see more residential buyers and tourists being enticed by the recognition. This should further propel Cebu’s residential and leisure segments moving forward,” said Joey Roi Bondoc, senior research manager at Colliers International Philippines.
He said the citation should enable Cebu to attract more foreign and local tourists.
“It only solidifies Cebu’s stature as a key tourist spot in the country. But what’s more important is the drive to make cities safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable,” he added.
Significantly, the UNESCO recognition should benefit the property sector in general.
“Developers should also be mindful of this citation. They should maximize it when building and promoting projects,” Bondoc added.
Cebu City officially joined 66 cities designated as UNESCO Creative Cities, as announced by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay in October 2019. JMO (FREEMAN)