By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada
THE years 2011-2016 saw billions of pesos in public funds poured into Iloilo City to build wider roads, beautiful river parks, street lighting and other infrastructure projects under the auspices of Senator Franklin Drilon.
The money came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and without a doubt, Iloilo City gobbled up a lion’s share of the pie with hardly anyone noticing how Drilon put one over the other legislators who were content with one or two hundred million pesos for their pet projects.
But the question must be asked? How much did it contribute to the overall growth and development of Iloilo City?
I must admit that the circumferential road that links the coastal road in Jaro to the Arevalo district vastly improved the mobility of many Ilonggos, including business and industry.
The widening of the Ninoy Aquino Jr. Avenue (or Diversion Road) has not lessened traffic congestion, especially in front of the SM City area.
True, the visual impact of wider roads is more than enough to create the impression of rapid growth. It draws awe among visitors. Indeed, infrastructure is always a good showcase to impress visitors, including investors.
Aesthetics, however, is skin-deep.
And this is now being proven by statistics from NEDA and PSA that the economic performance of the region, with Iloilo City at its center, is slowing down.
Why is this so?
First, almost no money from DAP was put into the construction of school buildings, hospitals and training centers.
To achieve real growth, our government should invest heavily in human capital, and that includes public education, health facilities and places where people can hone their practical skills.
The infrastructure development of Iloilo City was biased towards roads and Esplanades and bridges.
Human development was largely ignored by Drilon, the author of the DAP fund releases for these infrastructure projects.
Most people don’t know this, but the latest stretches of Esplanades that were inaugurated the other week has a total price tag of P1 billion.
That amount of money could have been poured into infrastructure promoting human capital.
Right now, Iloilo City doesn’t have an LGU-run hospital that can cater to the health needs of its constituents. The existing government hospitals are bursting at their seams due to overcrowding. When Ilonggos get sick, the best they could get is lying on a folding bed on a hospital corridor.
Or how about training centers?
To be competitive, Iloilo needs highly-trained manpower, not only for call centers but also for manufacturing and IT. It’s not enough that we are the center of education in Western Visayas. Our graduates come out of college with rough edges that need to be polished and make them competitive in the job market.
We’ve seen BPOs sprouting all over the city these last five or six years, and that is a positive indication that call center companies are finding Iloilo an excellent place to do business.
Our government could make Iloilo more appealing to BPO companies by providing razor-sharp talent for their recruiters. The availability of well-trained manpower counts as one of the core parameters for BPO companies in picking a place to operate. Iloilo could have achieved a big advantage in this area.
It’s a pity these things were ignored by Drilon when he had the power to slice huge pieces of funds for Iloilo. I guess he wanted to build monuments, and not empower Ilonggos that would assure sustainability in our growth.
This being the case, it’s not yet too late for Drilon to improve the economic growth prospects of Iloilo.
We need a special economic zone to be established in Iloilo, especially with the planned expansion of our port facilities in Loboc and Dumangas by the billionaire port operator, Enrique Razon.
Drilon can bring together the congressmen and women of the Province and City to craft the legislation and use his clout to steer it through both Houses of Congress.
Iloilo needs more than eye-pleasing projects. A special economic zone will definitely propel Iloilo, both city and province, to rapid growth.