Onward to a more progressive Iloilo
ILOILO CITY—Imagine this: business process outsourcing (BPO) companies are operating along the beaches. Food products are sourced from local farmlands that had been converted into Instagrammable tourism destinations.
These are among the development thrusts of the province of Iloilo, which comprises 42 towns and one city at the southeast of Panay Island that has been blessed with fertile agricultural land.
According to Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr., the provincial government wants to maximize agriculture production by creating a value chain for agricultural products and, in the process, generate employment and business for the province’s agricultural-tourism industry.
At the same time, they also want the province to develop “growth centers” to serve as investment centers for information and communication technology and light industries, to generate employment and business for the service and manufacturing sectors of Iloilo.
“We are an agricultural province. Our prime product is rice. We are happy with that and we are proud of that,” he said. “We want agriculture and food to be the center of our tourism industry.”
Defensor said they were working with the Department of Agriculture on the possible production of upscale hybrid rice and ways to increase the local farm yield from the present 3.5 tons per hectare.
The province also wants to develop food products using the output of the province’s farms.
Passi City, for instance, produces pineapples but does not have any food product from pineapples, Defensor pointed out. Several hectares of land are planted to sugar and yet the province does not have a big candy industry.
To this end, the governor met with representatives from the University of the Philippines and institutions like Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec) as well as presidents of colleges and universities in the province who agreed to have localized research and development.
“We are ambitious but we are not going to design a rocket ship. We will start simple. We will start with what we have and what we need,” he said.
They want to develop food varieties and food recipes that they can share with Ilonggos, and hopefully, turn these into a business and improve their lives.
Another aspect being looked into is marrying local handicrafts with the food industry.“It is like buying two things at one time,” said Defensor, citing as example putting Iloilo’s famous butterscotch in native jewelry boxes.
The governor said they wanted food to become the center of the local tourism industry because people travel to eat, as shown on social media and on television.
Their tourism mantra? “Fun Foodie Friendly Iloilo” because it is fun in Iloilo with its beaches, tourism sites and festivals. Iloilo is also known for its good food and friendly people.
Despite being an agricultural province, Iloilo wants to develop growth areas for ICT (information and communications technology) and light industry investments.
Positioning for the BPO industry is something doable for Iloilo following moves by industry players to expand their investments in Iloilo. Among these are locators from India, which are looking for BPO back offices.
“They like it here,” said Defensor, because Iloilo can supply the needed human resource. It is considered an education center due to the presence of several colleges and universities.
The province is selling to investors and locators an idea of an IT park along the coastline to maximize its beaches because Iloilo can never beat Boracay Island in nearby Aklan if it will just target foreign tourists who want to frolic on the beach.
“We are trying to promote our coastline to IT parks so we can maximize it. We have initial meetings with investors and they agree with our idea of why not have an IT park along the beach,” Defensor said.
While they want to establish light industries in the province, the governor admitted that these were not in the immediate future since they need infrastructure, like a developed port and an expanded international airport.
Fortunately, three groups have already presented proposals for the expansion of the Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan town.
There are also plans to develop the passenger port in Dumangas town into a container port that can serve as a transshipment port in the Visayas.
Aside from these, there are at least three big projects for the province in the offing: four circumferential roads, Iloilo-Capiz-Aklan Expressway, and Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Bridge.
The expressway is a 210-kilometer, six to eight lane expressway that will traverse 22 cities and towns along the provinces of Iloilo, Aklan and Capiz. It will be composed of roadways, viaducts, tunnels and a long-span bridge.
It will start in Leganes town, Iloilo, near the approach of the PGN Bridge, a flagship program of the Marcos administration.
The bridge, which will connect the islands of Panay, Guimaras and Negros, will have a total length of 32.47 kilometers with a bridge length of 18.08 km.
“You can’t realize the usefulness of the [PGN] bridge if you don’t have the expressway,” Defensor said.
Inspection has been conducted along the route of the expressway while the procurement for technical services on the PGN Bridge’s detailed engineering design is ongoing.
The Iloilo circumferential road 1 (C1) had been completed while C2 would be finished soon. The development of the third circumferential road is ongoing while a fourth has yet to start.
While the Iloilo provincial government moves to realize its “MoRProGRes (Movement for a Robust, Progressive, Globally Competitive and Resilient) Iloilo” goal, Defensor said Iloilo’s economy remains private-sector driven.
The Iloilo government’s intervention can be seen in three levels—motivation, training and capital.
He cited the case of the ongoing contest on the most beautiful and eco-friendly MoRProGRes Garden, a garden that can blend high-value crops and ornamental plants with landscaping features, using recycled/upcycled materials.
The program aims to create agricultural tourism destinations especially for Ilonggos who go to the province on weekends, and at the same time address issues on food security and climate change.
Another category is for gardens that operate cafes serving native beverages and fresh produce from local gardens. The province will recognize the top performing MoRProGRes Cafes.
Defensor said creating the program is the province’s way to motivate land owners to level up their farms and make these into tourism destinations. At the same time, these can produce high-value crops that they can also sell to the tourists.
He noticed that people go around, take selfies in places they find picture-pretty and post them on social media. To put this theory to a test, he said the province provided an incentive for farm owners to make their gardens Instagram-ready by holding a contest, which started in April.
There are already 160 participants who underwent training on high-value crops production, ornamental gardening and landscaping, among others.
“Our capital intervention is to provide inputs and assistance. We also gave out seeds,” Defensor said.
But the basic capital intervention provided by the province is in civil infrastructure like the provincial roads and healthcare services.
Efforts, Defensor said, were geared toward the mission to make Iloilo “a local government unit committed to provide equitable distribution of resources and opportunities through good governance.”
Good government, he stressed, is not the goal but the standard. INQ