ILOILO City – The emergence of shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment places is proof of this city’s rapidly expanding economy and consumer confidence. But can this be sustained? There are warning signs that the economy is slowing down.
Since 2015, Western Visayas has attained one of the highest regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates in the country. The regional GDP grew by nine point four percent in 2015, 8.4 percent in 2016, and 8.6 percent in 2017.
In 2018, however, it recorded only 6.1 percent growth rate, indicating a slowdown in economic activities.
“I am concerned that such slowdown will continue this year,” said Ilonggo senator Franklin Drilon during a reception hosted by the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, Inc. and the Iloilo-Multisectoral Business Organization, Inc. on Aug. 16.
Agriculture also shrank in terms of its percentage share of the region’s GDP – from 18.6 percent in 2017 to 17.2 percent last year.
It decelerated by a negative 1.4 percent growth rate in 2018 from a positive 8.8 percent in 2017.
“Very alarming, because 40 percent of the labor force in the region is engaged in agriculture and fisheries,” said Drilon.
What must be done?
“We (must) expand our economy and remain focused on our development goals,” said Drilon.
The completion of the Jalaur Multi-Purpose Project is critical to Iloilo’s continued growth, said stressed.
This project, which will have an 800 hectare water reservoir, the biggest outside Luzon, will provide irrigation to 32,000 hectares of farm land. It is expected to double the income of almost 25,000 farmer families, boosting Iloilo’s rice production from 142,000 metric tons, to over 300,000 metric tons annually.
It is also expected supply 86.4 million liters of potable water daily, and generate 6.8 megawatts of electricity per day.
But the Jalaur Multi-Purpose Project is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2023 yet.
Drilon said the services sector must also be expanded. Currently, it accounts for 58 percent of the regional economy.
“We must attract the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry because Iloilo is a university town, with young, dynamic and information technology-savvy workers,” he said.
The senator said Iloilo must also position itself as a destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions, or MICE, to promote the tourism industry.
“Tourism undersecretary Art Boncato, together with our former Tourism secretary Narzalina Lim, are drawing up the MICE roadmap. In October, the Department of Tourism will launch a P50-million marketing plan for Iloilo,” Drilon revealed.
He also stressed the importance of public-private sector partnerships in building infrastructure that will further drive development.
“Recently, we witnessed the commencement of the joint venture between Metro Pacific Water and Metro Iloilo Water District. Metro Pacific Water has committed to invest P12.6 billion to rehabilitate and upgrade one of the oldest water distribution facilities in the country, which were all built before World War II,” said Drilon.
With this public-private partnership, it is envisioned that clean and potable water would reach 90 percent of the water district’s franchise area, from the current 20 percent.
“You may have also heard that the International Container Terminal Services, Inc., or the ICTSI, has submitted to the Philippine Ports Authority, an unsolicited proposal to modernize and operate the Iloilo Port Complex and the Port of Dumangas,” said Drilon.
ICTSI has committed to invest P8.7 Billion, to cover four development phases. The proponent aims to bring the Iloilo port to world-class levels and build a terminal for cruise ship passengers.
With these plans realized, Iloilo will be a major regional transshipment hub for Visayas, said Drilon.
“We must also work for the establishment of agro-industrial economic zones in Iloilo. I am told that there is a proposal to establish one in the Municipality of Leganes. I hope this succeeds. I am willing to help in order that we can see this project completed,” he said.
Now is not the time to rest, said Drilon.
“There is much to do. There are bigger challenges to tackle to make Iloilo a competitive, world-class city,” he stressed./PN