A new Western Visayas region, what’s next?
IN 2015, a new Western Visayas Region was born, after the old region was partitioned. Its largest province, Negros Occidental, became part of the new Negros Region, which now includes Negros Oriental and Siquijor.
It was a significant change, a game changer. From six provinces and 16 cities, now it has five provinces—Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras and Iloilo—and three cities—Iloilo, Passi and Roxas.
The new region has now a population about 40 percent of its population before while its land area is nearly 40 percent smaller. Prior to the partition, Western Visayas had a population of 8.34 million (circa 2010). After, it shrank to 3.55 million. For land area, it is down from 2.08 million hectares to 1.28 million hectares.
On the aggregate, about 35 percent of agriculture was cutoff: 23 percent of palay, 41 percent of corn, and nearly 90 percent of sugarcane. For agro-industry, some nine out of the 13 sugar mills went to Negros region.
An immediate impact will be fewer visitors to the regional capital, Iloilo City, as there will be fewer coordination and follow-up meetings with government regional offices. This will have an impact on the services sector, such as hotels, restaurants and transport services.
But the challenges the “new” region faces create possibilities. There are agriculture and aquaculture, business process outsourcing (BPO), industrial estates, and tourism and retirement communities.
Agriculture: Western Visayas is behind in farm productivity as compared to the country, except for yellow corn, mango and camote. These are areas that need attention. The region is a surplus but low-yield producer of rice. Despite the popularity of pinasugbo (sugared sliced banana), the region is short of saba banana. It has little production of coffee, cacao and highland vegetables. The region has to diversify. Libacao in Aklan has the potential for highland crops and flower production. Libacao is only 45 kilometers (km) from Kalibo and 120 km from Boracay.
The Korean-funded Jalaur II multi-purpose project will provide irrigation to some 31,800 hectares. It is expected to be completed by 2018. It is intended to provide the region with stable supply of water for irrigation and increase irrigated rice production from 3.6 to 5 metric tons per hectare.
It is imperative that Jalaur irrigation be used not only for rice but also for other high-value crops for the domestic and export markets.
Aquaculture needs to be ramped up. Capiz is a leading aquaculture center. It is a key producer of mudcrab, mussel and oyster as well as brackish milkfish. These are possibilities for growth. Caluya Island, Antique is a major seaweed producer and a hidden tourist destination.
Industry: Western Visayas still has La Filipina Flour Mill and four sugar mills. There are several feed mills and slaughter/dressing plants. Small industries in food processing abound from cookies to pinasugbo as well as muscovado and piña cloth.
Coal is a leading export coming from Semirara Island, Antique, valued at over $150 million a year. While a sugar producer, regional output is exported at the bulk terminal in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. Wheat and fertilizers are main imports: the former to feed the flour mill; the latter for re-sale to farmers.
The power supply problem is being addressed.
Currently, the 135-megawatt coal-fired power plant of the Palm Concepcion Power Corp. is already being installed.
Tourism and services: Western Visayas, with Boracay, is among the top tourist destinations, foreign and domestic. Iloilo City is attracting more visitors. Guimaras is promoting agri-tourism.
Libacao, Aklan, has great potential for nature tourism. But, the region has many new and undeveloped tourist sites. Antique alone has 155 kilometers of coastline and Mount Madyaas (over 2,000 meters elevation). Add Gigantes Island in northern Iloilo.
BPO has potential, too. Today, Ilolio has more than 20 BPO/call center companies (about 15,000 seats at latest count) but solely located in Iloilo City.
Infrastructure: There are already four operating airports: Aklan, Boracay, Iloilo and Roxas. There are four ports with roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) facilities. These are in Iloilo River, Dumangas, Jordan and Caticlan. With ro-ro facilities, goods can now be cheaply transported to Luzon via Batangas and also to Northern Mindanao. But this is insufficient.
A strategic link to the global market requires a container port. The provincial government of Iloilo and the mayor of Dumangas have pushed for this development, coupled with economic zones. Without a container port, Western Visayas will have limited options to break into world trade.
Is the region’s future bright or bleak?
Albert Toynbee, a noted historian, used the concepts of “Challenge and Response” to explain how civilizations rise and fall.
By “Challenge,” he meant some unpredictable event that posed a threat to people, especially their livelihood. “Challenge” also carried in it the germ of opportunity. A challenge would arise as a result of many things—population growth, exhaustion of a vital resource, climate change.
“Response” was the action taken to cope with the new challenge. Response required vision, leadership, and action to overcome the threat and create a basis for survival and hopefully, prosperity (Schmandt and Ward, Cambridge, http://assets.cambridge.org/).
Will the Western Visayan leaders respond to the challenge?
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is the Vice Chair of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and <email@example.com>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)
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