THE ROBUST public and private spending will continue to support economic growth in 2019 and lay the foundation for our long-term development.
I am particularly optimistic about the new roads and bridges being built to link towns and provinces, and the modern airports being developed in our major cities. While there are efforts to upgrade the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Parañaque City, similar initiatives are being pursued to enhance the capacity of regional gateways, such as Clark, Laoag, Legazpi, Cebu, Davao, Panglao (Bohol), Puerto Princesa, Iloilo, Bacolod and Laguindingan (Misamis Oriental).
These projects are designed to disperse the economic activities from Metro Manila to the rest of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. Thus, economic growth is becoming more inclusive because a larger part of the population benefits from projects that improve people’s access to economic centers and enhance transportation services.
Aside from the local residents who will benefit from these infrastructure projects, foreign as well as domestic tourists will find the several destinations in the country more accessible and, therefore, more attractive. Tourism is one major economic driver in the provinces, as evidenced by the rapid growth of Baguio City, Boracay, Cebu, Davao, Bohol and recently, Palawan.
We must sustain our infrastructure buildup to catch up with the influx of foreign tourists. Data from the Department of Tourism show that international visitor arrivals hit an all-time high of 7.1 million in 2018, up by 7.7 percent from the previous year, and in line with the medium-term target of 12 million arrivals by 2022.
South Korea, China and the United States in 2018 sent over 1 million tourists each to the Philippines.
Visitors from other countries are also expected to increase in the coming years, so we need to make sure we can accommodate all of them.
The “Build, Build, Build” program of President Duterte aims to address this issue by increasing the infrastructure budget to 4.7 percent of our gross domestic product in 2019 from just 2.6 percent of GDP over the past 50 years. The target is to raise the figure to 7 percent of GDP by 2022.
The private sector is also committed to take part in the infrastructure development by offering to operate regional airports. This would translate into better passenger experience, as the private-sector operator will make sure that the toilets of the terminals are clean and adequately supplied and the boarding gates are air-conditioned.
Infrastructure companies have also offered to build more expressways to cut the travel time between Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon. The Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway is about to be extended to San Juan, La Union, while the Laguna section of the Cavite-Laguna Expressway is about to be finished.
The government plans to extend South Luzon Expressway from Santo Tomas, Batangas, to Lucena City and build the Quezon-Bicol Expressway, a 220-kilometer road from Lucena City to Matnog, Sorsogon.
In Metro Manila, the country’s first subway project broke ground recently to provide commuters a better transportation alternative. The North Luzon Expressway was also extended to Circumferential Road 3 in Caloocan City, while works on the Skyway Stage 3, from Buendia in Makati City to Nlex Balintawak, are ongoing.
With the construction of the important infrastructure projects along with the modernization of our regional airports, I believe investors will be encouraged to establish businesses in the countryside and foreign tourists will find it more convenient to visit other parts of the country. This will result in the better circulation of money to include rural towns and islands that used to be fully reliant on agriculture and fisheries.
Tourism destinations, however, will only become truly appealing if they are clean and organized. This is why we support Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu’s drive to clean up Boracay and rehabilitate Manila Bay and its tributaries. Along with the environmental drive, the government’s infrastructure buildup and private-sector participation will reinvigorate the Philippine tourism industry and create more employment opportunities.
This piece first came out in Business Mirror on March 19, 2019 under the column “The Entrepreneur.” For comments/feedback e-mail to: [email protected] or visitwww.mannyvillar.com.ph./PN