Bernardo M. Villegas
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Laguindingan to Mountain Pines Place

           As I landed for the first time on the newly opened Laguindingan International Airport between the two cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, I reflected on the rewards of patience in achieving certain socio-economic goals in the imperfect democracy that we have in this country.  The first time I heard about the heretofore unknown town of Laguindingan in  Northern Mindanao was during the Administration of former President Cory Aquino.  A group of business leaders in Cagayan de Oro conceived of the project of replacing the very inadequate facilities of the old Cagayan de Oro airport, that used to be closed with the slightest drizzle, with an airport between the two most industrialized cities of Northwestern Mindanao.  It has taken more than a quarter of century to realize this dream, a project that would have taken not more than five years in Singapore, China or even Vietnam.  The project is not yet even complete because the landing lights are nowhere to be seen (the earlier flight before mine had to be diverted to Cebu because it was still too dark and heavy rains caused poor visibility).  The road to Cagayan de Oro is still being completed (although I promised the Chamber of Commerce of Cagayan de Oro that I would intercede to Secretary Babes Singson to have it completed before Christmas this year). 

          Nevertheless I shared the optimism of President Benigno Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address last July 22, 2013 when almost at the same time that he was delivering the SONA I was giving an economic briefing to some fifty top businessmen of CDO in a forum organized by the country's Hall of Fame Most Outstanding Chamber of Commerce--the CDO Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. (ORO Chamber) in cooperation with the Asia Foundation, Mindanao Business Council, Integrity Initiative-Makati Business Club, Palm Concepcion Power Corp. and the  University of Asia and the Pacific.  President Aquino included the completion of the Laguindingan Airport among the accomplishments of his Administration over the last twelve months.  I agree that the new airport will unlock numerous potentials, especially for the development of CDO as a "peaceful, orderly, livable city with a modern trading and services center where there are equal opportunities for its disciplined citizens to develop and prosper in a clean and healthy environment" (vision statement contained in a comprehensive land use plan prepared at the start of the twenty first century). 

          With its manageable population of some  600,000 residents, CDO can be the center of a "rurban" (partly rural and partly urban) development plan for the next twenty years within the context of  a Philippine economy that will be one of the most rapidly growing emerging markets in Asia.  It has a significant role as a trading hub connecting Mindanao with the Visayas region.  It is surrounded with very attractive tourism destinations, especially in the provinces of Bukidnon and Camiguin Island.  As an educational center (it has some high-quality universities like Xavier University and Cagayan de Oro Colleges owned and managed by the PHINMA group), it can attract more BPO/KPO enterprises looking for more cost-effective locations outside of the National Capital region.  It can be the logistics center for high-value fruits, vegetables and livestock grown in the very fertile areas of Bukidnon.  I reminded the members of the Chamber that the term "agribusiness" which has been identified as one of the promising sectors in the coming decades is not limited to farming but includes the value chain from farming to post-harvest to processing to wholesaling and retailing.  CDO and its environs can be in all the components of the agribusiness supply chain.  I saw with my own eyes the potentials for palm oil and Arabica coffee in Bukidnon. Finally, with the increased interest of Japanese and Korean manufacturing firms to move to the Philippines, the nearby industrial zones can see the revival of industry in the region, especially with the prospects of more than 400 megawatt of power being added to its grid by investments of the Aboitiz and Gotianun business groups in the next three to five years.

          I had the opportunity to share this vision with the newly elected Mayor of CDO, Oscar Moreno who in my opinion has the makings of another Jesse Robredo, considering his reputation for integrity and professional competence (he was a top executive in one of the leading conglomerates in the country before entering politics).  The role of the Government in his vision is to focus on the continuous improvement of infrastructures and the provision of social services, especially to the lower-income groups in such areas as basic education, primary health, potable water and socialized housing.  I remarked that the tragedy of Sendong which killed numerous informal settlers who were living along the river can lead to a greater resolve to address the housing problem.  Even the most recent unfortunate event of a bombing in a busy commercial center that led to the loss of lives has increased the determination of the Mayor and his people to work closely with the police and civil society to tighten the security measures in the City.  I was in CDO on the night of the bombing and was very impressed with the resilience of the residents of the City:  a few hours after the incident, I went to the commercial center where it occurred and was surprised to see literally hundreds of shoppers and revelers who acted as if nothing had happened.  That is why I am positive that CDO can eventually shed whatever negative image might have temporarily tainted its reputation as a tourism center.

            To show to my CDO friends that I am walking the talk about the potentials of CDO, I spent the next three weeks after our July 22 forum in an international conference on the Humanities with professionals coming from different parts of the Asia Pacific region and Europe.  The gathering  was held within the breathtaking environs of Bukidnon in  the Mountain Pines Place, a conference center in Kalugmanan, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon that has the pristine beauty of  Baguio of fifty years ago.  Mountain Pines will be one of the tourism assets of the whole region as it is discovered by more professional and corporate groups who are looking for a serene and quiet place "where time stops and discovery begins from within and without."  With a very beautiful Catholic chapel, it has already been the venue for a good number of weddings.  Those interested in spending time in MPP on vacation with their families or in professional workshops and conferences may email MOUNTAIN PINES PLACE@yahoo.com or call (088) 8516847 or (088) 309 6477.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.