New cities girding for development
It was an agonizing seesaw battle with the Supreme Court, famous or notorious for its flip-flopping decisions off and on over a four-year span: A decision handed down, reversed; request for reconsideration, a loss by one vote; request for reconsideration again, and then a gain by one vote.
Finally, last year, 16 towns throughout the country became cities again. And in January this year, they obtained their Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA).
There are three cities in Luzon, seven in the Visayas and six in Mindanao.
These are Lamitan (Basilan), El Salvador (Misamis Oriental), Cabadbaran (Agusan del Norte), Bayugan (Agusan del Sur), Tandag (Surigao del Sur), Mati (Davao Oriental), Tabuk (Kalinga), Batac (Ilocos Norte), Tayabas (Quezon), Guihulngan (Negros Oriental), Bogo, Naga and Carcar (all in Cebu), Borongan (Eastern Samar), Baybay (Leyte) and Catbalogan (Samar).
The mayors of the new cities—most of them anyway—have formed a loose group, as yet unnamed, and they met recently at Peking Garden, Trinoma, to discuss economic development strategies. Convenor and spokesperson of the group is Mayor Carmen Cari of Baybay City.
In an interview, Cari said, “The 16 mayors are much, much better off than before, as far as economic development is concerned. There are many businesses coming in. Based on stories from the mayors of Borongan, Kabadbaran, Naga, Carcar … everybody said that when we became cities, business entities doubled, tripled in the demand for space. The development is very fast.”
She added that when they finally got the IRA, “that was the time we were able to move on with our infrastructure and development projects.”
The cost of land has increased by 200 percent, the mayor said. In her home city of Baybay, there are three commercial banks with a fourth, Bank of the Philippine Islands, coming in. Chinese businessmen have invested in coconut husk and coir. Mature coconut water is being eyed for export to the United States.
Baybay is a coastal town and, Cari said, “we are reclaiming nine hectares for business purposes. It will be a commercial area. We need a new road. We need to decongest.”
Most of the new cities have their share of ecotourist attractions, such as waterfalls, mountains, beaches, resorts, tourist hotels and inns, aqua sports, extreme adventure and lively festivals.
“Ecotourism has improved and not just ecotourism but tourism in general,” the city executive observed. “Ecotourism has been there ever since. But now that we are cities, we can further develop our destinations.”
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