Bernardo M. Villegas
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Balik Probinsya in Batangas Province

          For people in overcrowded Metro Manila, the first province that should be considered in the “Balik Probinsya” campaign is the booming province of Batangas, which I described in a previous article as the “Next Metro Manila.”  Its very proactive Provincial Board led by Governor Hermilando Mandanas  and Vice-Governor Mark Leviste have  met the double-edged challenge of the eruption of Taal Volcano and the COVID-19 pandemic with a very impressive set of infrastructure development program and a Health Integrated Management System that will enable the province to provide a growing population with sufficient employment opportunities coupled with free quality health care services for the poor that are difficult to find in other Philippine provinces.  I can really advise the millennials, especially young couples, now residing in Metro Manila: plan to make Batangas province your future home.  As of the latest figures  (2015) from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA), while the National Capital Region (NCR) had a population density of 20,785 persons per sq. km., Batangas province has only 865 persons per sq. km (compared to 2,439 for Rizal,  2,410 for Cavite,  1,574 for Laguna, 1,183 for Bulacan and 1,098 for Pampanga.)  With the exception of Quezon province, Batangas is the least densely populated in the CALABARZON region.  With all the infrastructures being planned by its provincial government in the next five to ten years, the province can afford to take in more “balik-probinsya” households without creating the urban congestion that is the bane of the Metro Manila region.

         The first move is to significantly improve the capacity of the Batangas International Port, the gateway from Luzon to the whole Southern Philippines.  In fact, there is already more passenger traffic in the Batangas Port than in Port of Manila.  A recent provincial ordinance created the Batangas Access Zone—West (BAZ-West) and Batamgas Access Zone—East (BAZ—East).  These additional facilities will ensure greater mobility of products and services, linking the major establishments from Phase I to Phase IV of the Batangas International Port.  The development of  these access zones shall provide for roads, bridges, ports and rails that will merge the agro-industrial complex and food terminal, logistics facilities, COCOCHEM, CALTEX Depot and Housing complexes expanding from Phase III of Batangas International Port and the Port of Bauan covered by the Batangas Access Zone up to the Shell Refinery area in Tabangao, Batangas. These additional facilities will strengthen the position of Batangas as the energy centre of Luzon.

         To further improve the strategic role of Batangas as an alternative to the Manila International Port, sea port operations will be expanded in other locations within the province.  This project involves the acquisition of properties in various parts of the province for the development and operation of sea ports to serve as expansion and alternative ports to the existing Batangas International Port in Batangas City.  Such additional ports facilities will enhance the ability of the province to act as a logistics centre, not only for energy products, but also tor numerous agribusiness products that will be produced within the province and in neighbouring provinces such as Mindoro Oriental, Quezon, and Laguna.  This role in the all-important sector of supply chain will be crucial to the ongoing plans to encourage many more investors to venture into high-value products such as vegetables, fruits, and livestock.  In fact, already the biggest poultry project in Asia—a joint project of Cargill and Jollibee—is being located in the newly created city of Sto. Tomas, Batangas.  The ports of Batangas also serve as logistic centers for big volumes of calmansi (citrus) and bananas (saba variety) that are grown in neighbouring Mindoro Oriental.  There are also plans to convert the arable lands still remaining in Batangas into farms producing high-value fruits and vegetables both for the domestic market and for exports, especially to China.

         Because of its strategic location and abundant beach and other resorts, Batangas is already the most visited province by domestic tourists, mostly coming from the Metro Manila area.  This fact prompted the provincial board to create the Batangas Arts, Recreation and Tourism Complex (BART-C).  This project is meant to convert and develop some ideal government properties located near the Provincial Community Park, including the construction of a complex composed of a convention centre, offices, residential condominiums, hotels, medical arts, and commercial establishments.   The Province intends to enter into a conditional sale of these  properties or joint venture agreements with private investors, wherein the total cost of the construction of the project will be at the expense of the private developer, subject to the condition of establishing the BART-C for the benefit of the public.  To further improve the attractiveness of the province to both domestic and foreign tourists, the Batangas Eco-Tourism Venture will focus on developing properties located in the two most popular and visited destinations:  Barangay Matabungkay, Lian and San Juan.

         The COVID-19 pandemic has given a big boost to the digitalisation of major business sectors such as banking, retail trade, education, travel and tourism.  The provincial government is determined to significantly improve the indispensable telecommunication services needed for digitalisation.  Thus, it has created the Batangas Managed Network (BATMAN) which shall provide for the establishment and operation of a provincial owned viable telecommunications for inter-connectivity of municipalities and cities either through fiber or wireless connection or both.  The project involves the creation of a telecommunication network that is capable of providing the fastest, yet cheapest, internet service in the province, and in the future in the entire CALABARZON region.  There will be free internet access to all government offices, schools and other public places within the province of Batangas.

         To address the increasing traffic congestion in key economic areas in the province, the government is establishing the Batangas Railway System.  This project involves the revival of the railway system from the Batangas International Port area to the City of Calamba in the Province of Laguna though a Contract of Lease with the Philippine National Railways (PNR) and the construction and operation of a railway system from Bauan, Batangas to the Port Area of Batangas City.   To complement the railway system which will facilitate cargo transport for the hundreds of factories in the many industrial estates located in the province, the provincial government is also creating the Batangas Province International Airport.  Considering the proximity and accessibility of the province to the Metro Manila area and other key industrial areas and tourist destinations, the establishment of an international airport in the province will aid in promoting and accelerating the competitiveness of the province as a premier economic and tourism destinations not only within the country, but globally as well.  By the time this international airport is constructed five to ten years from now, both domestic and international tourism would have recovered from the crisis precipitated by the pandemic.  The project will involve the acquisition of land to be used as site for the construction and operation of the international airport which will serve as an alternative gateway outside of Metro Manila.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia