Bernardo M. Villegas
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Creative Responses in Countryside Development

          Dr. Roberto de Vera of the School of Economics of the University of Asia and the Pacific is one of the few experts in regional and urban economics in the Philippines and possibly in Southeast Asia.  He recently gave an economic briefing to CEOs and other senior executives of Philippine and multinational enterprises which he entitled "Creative Responses in Countryside Development."  I am summarizing here his main points that can be very useful to both government and business leaders who are trying to address more effectively the problem of both rural and urban poverty in the Philippines that is still struggling to attain what is known as inclusive growth, i.e., economic growth that also benefits the "bottom of the pyramid."   He started by citing hard facts derived from the 2010 Census of Population and Housing and the 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey. 

          Urban population expanded by 1,425,000 a year from 2007 to 2010. The highest increases were no longer in the National Capital Region (NCR).  The top two were Cavite and Cebu.  NCR ranked third, but among the top ten were Laguna, Rizal, Batangas, Bulacan, Davao del Sur, Negros Occidental and Pampanga. This increased urbanization of the Philippine population helps in reducing mass poverty because poverty incidence is much less in urban areas than in rural communities.  Dr. de Vera says pointedly:  "We can invest in more regional cities so they can absorb urban migrants who can get well-paid jobs.  We build the roads, internet, organizations and attract investments that make urban areas livable and productive to absorb and house migrants."    From my own personal experience as a native of Sto. Tomas, Batangas, I have seen the dramatic improvement in living conditions in my hometown that has been transformed from a sleepy rural village just twenty years ago to a highly industrialized community generating tens of thousands of high-quality manufacturing jobs in the scores of industrial zones that have mushroomed along the old highway, catering not only to people of Batangas province but migrants from all over the Philippines, including from the Visayas and Mindanao.  I have seen similar developments in my frequent trips to Pampanga, Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna.  As I have written in previous columns, in the next ten to twenty years, two major metropolitan areas will rival Metro Manila:  Metro Batangas and Metro Pampanga.  No wonder some of the largest real estate companies like Ayala Land and SM Land have acquired vast properties in these provinces.  In the not-too-distant future, other metropolitan areas will follow:  Metro Cagayan de Oro, Metro Iloilo, Metro Bacolod, and Metro General Santos City.

          Dr. de Vera then analyzed the provinces that experienced the sharpest decrease in rural population during the same period.  Rural population shrank by 168,000 annually from 2007 to 2010.   It can be presumed that those who moved from rural to urban areas experienced some improvement in their living conditions, no matter how harsh the living conditions in the slum areas of cities.  There must be, however, a program to raise the living standards of those who have chosen to remain in the rural areas.  The recommendation of Dr. de Vera:  "We build the water, health, power, learning and broadband services that help people live like human beings."  In addition, he suggests:  "The Government must harness expertise from the private sector that makes PPPs investment-friendly.  This will complement the successes made in good governance in some government departments."  I can especially cite the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Education and the Department of  Tourism among those that have demonstrated singular success in good governance, thanks to the right leadership.