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Private sector backs transfer of seat of gov’t

business / Headlines
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Private sector backs transfer of seat of gov’t

/ 12:18 AM June 24, 2016

Washington Sycip, deemed as the “grand old man of Philippine business,” has floated the idea of moving the country’s seat of political power to Clark Freeport to address the over concentration of power in what some people decry as “Imperial Manila.”

“I think the over concentration in Greater (Metro) Manila is not good. There should be decentralization of power,” Sycip said in a briefing after the “AIM for Change” forum.

The forum, organized by the Asian Institute of Management, sought to discuss the future of the country under the incoming administration.

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The potential transfer of the seat of government—which had long been nestled in Malacañang Palace in Manila—was an issue that had been discussed a lot privately but not openly, Sycip said.

The 95-year-old Sycip, who still advises many of the country’s largest corporations long after retiring from local accounting giant SGV which he co-founded, said Clark Freeport already had an international airport and could be the “equivalent of Washington DC” in the US.

“Makati and Fort Bonifacio will be the financial center as New York is, while Clark will be the equivalent of Washington DC,” Sycip said.

“That’s another possibility, aside from federal system, is further decentralization,” Sycip said.

The state-owned Bases Conversion Development Authority is developing in Clark a new urban area, half the size of Metro Manila. “Clark Green City” is envisioned to be the country’s first “smart, green and disaster-resilient” metropolis.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is an advocate of federalism, a form of government that gives greater policy-making independence to the regional and local government units similar to the systems in the US and Canada.

Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, who chairs local telecom giant PLDT Inc. and infrastructure holding firm Metro Pacific Investments Corp., said that his sense was that businessmen were quite neutral about the proposed shift to federalism given that they did not know how this would be structured in the country.

“From what I could gather is if Duterte will push for it, it could take quite some time,” Pangilinan said, noting that if a Constitutional Commission were to be convened to change the form of (the Philippine) government, this would also open the doors for those advocating for other Constitutional amendments like the liberalization of economic provisions.  As such, he said, the speculation was that it might take the entire term of the incoming administration to push for this.

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Doris Magsaysay Ho, president of the Magsaysay Group of Companies and a philanthropist, said doing the regionalization approach could be one baby step that could already catalyze countryside growth without waiting for a shift to a federal form of government.

Magsaysay Ho, who was also present during a recent business forum with Duterte in Mindanao, said people from the provinces felt distant from Manila-based policy-makers. “Maybe as an interim step, some of the (government) departments should already make available regional services so people don’t feel that the only way is federalism,” she said.

As exemplified by the US and Canada, Magsaysay Ho said federalism was one form of government that would need a deep bench of leadership. At the same time, she said such a system would need stronger institutions to make it work.

Ho said developing clusters based on the competitive strengths of each region or city as well as building eco-systems would help the country spur growth in the countryside.

For his part, Sycip said it was good that Duterte had shown resolve to address the problem of Muslim Mindanao and the armed left-wing group New People’s Army.

“If he can solve those two problems, that will be very very helpful. None of the presidents was able to solve these problems,” he said.

At any rate, Sycip said he “can’t help but become optimistic” of the country’s future under Duterte who, he said, had turned Davao City into a “model” province.

“Over concentration of everything in Metro Manila is not the best thing for growth of the country,” he said.

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