Bernardo M. Villegas
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Empress City of the South

           After the Second World War, Iloilo City was still referred to as the “Queen City of the South.”  Because of the more entrepreneurial population of Cebu City in the 1950s and 1960s, and especially during the Marcos regime when under the leadership of Lito Osmena Cebu grew at rates above the national average and became famous as “the Island in the Pacific,” this metropolis in Central Visayas took away the queenship title from Iloilo City.   In a recent visit to Iloilo, after two years of not seeing the city, I have come to the conclusion that Iloilo City and the surrounding areas (Metro Iloilo) can become the “Empress City of the South,” competing closely with Cebu in growing at above-average rates.  In fact, it is highly probable that Metro Iloilo can grow at rates higher than 12 per cent per annum, as US.-based Filipino economist Norman Madrid has been proclaiming in his writings and speeches in recent weeks.

          I attribute the dramatic changes that have occurred in Iloilo City to a new generation of young entrepreneurs who have discarded the very conservative mindset of their parents and to more enlightened political leadership at both the national and local levels.   As reported by Rachel Lynn Y. Belandres in the last Year-End Business Economic Briefing at the University of Asia and the Pacific, for the past two years, the City of Iloilo has been included among the Top Competitive Cities in the Philippines, based on the 2013 and 2014 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI) of the National Competitiveness Council.  Through close cooperation between national politicians led by Senator Frank Drilon and the local leadership of Mayor Jed Mabilog, the infrastructures of Iloilo City are literally taking a quantum leap.  In the last trip I made, I couldn’t believe my eyes to see the six-lane highway being constructed between the new airport and the middle of Iloilo City in preparation for the APEC meetings in 2015.  The City Government itself is undertaking three major infrastructure projects:  the P1.9 billion Iloilo Circumferential Road; the P700 million Iloilo Convention Center (which is being built inside the Iloilo Business Park); and the P300 million widening of the Benigno Aquino, Jr Avenue or Diversion Road.  There is also the P170 million Iloilo River National Housing Authority (NHA) Subdivision Phase 1 in Camalig and Lanit, Jaro.  Unsurprisingly, Mayor Mabilog, who spearheaded these projects, has been shortlisted as one of the top twenty six mayors in the 2014 World Mayor Project, which is organized by the City Mayors Foundation that recognizes outstanding city mayors all over the world.  I am reminded of the phenomenal rise of President Jokowi of Indonesia from a mayor of a small town in Java to the Governor of Jakarta and finally to President of Indonesia in a short period of three years.

          With improved infrastructures provided by both the national and local governments, the private sector of Metro Iloilo has without doubt been the main engine of growth of the breathtaking  changes happening in this Ilonggo city.  Ms. Belandres estimates the total private sector investment to reach P150 billion, mostly in energy and real estate.  These multi-billion investments have been spurred by the expansion of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, commercial malls and convenience stores in strategic areas in the Metro area.  It also helps that Iloilo is an educational center boasting of high-quality universities, especially in such professional areas as accounting and business administration, nursing and health sciences, engineering and the sciences, and agriculture and fisheries.  Having been very familiar with the Iloilo of the 1970s and 1980s when I used to travel frequently to this city, I have also been struck by the change in consumer behaviour.  The young generation is less obsessed with savings as in the past and has joined the consumer-oriented population familiar in the city across the channel—Bacolod.  This has prompted the leading real estate developers to make big-ticket investments that are changing the city skyline overnight:  Megaworld Corporation, Double Dragon Properties Corporation, Ayala Land, Inc., Filinvest Land, Inc. and Gaisano Capital  Group.           The truly game-changing investment will be made by Megaworld which is developing the 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park at the Municipality of Mandurriao.  This P35-billion Project is a mixed use residential and commercial complex that will house luxury condominiums (One Madison Place Luxury Residences and the Palladium—which will be the tallest building in Western Visayas after its construction); hotels (Courtyard of Marriott Hotel and the Richmonde Hotel Iloilo); office buildings (One Techno Place, One Global Center, etc.) which will cater to BPO operations; and commercial centers (Megaworld Center Mall, Megaworld Boulevard, and the Festive Walk).  Not to be outdone is a local entrepreneur, Ed Injap of Mang Inasal fame, who is partnering with SM Investments Corporation to construct five CityMall projects in Iloilo City, in addition to real estate projects like the Firsthomes Iloilo, Injap Tower, People’s Condominium, and the Uptown Place.  In the next three to five years, when these projects are completed, the whole of Metro Iloilo will replicate what has happened to Fort Bonifacio over the last five to ten years.

          As an energy-short city at the beginning of this century, Iloilo will be one of the power-abundant cities in the next five to ten years. Megaworld Corporation invested P7.5 billion for its power project under Trans-Asia Power, while Palm Concepcion Power Corporation placed P16 billion in the 270 MW power plant complex to be built in Concepcion, Iloilo and which is expected to be completed in 2016, with another P10-billion power plant to be completed in 2019.  Global Business Power Corporation (GBPC) of the Metrobank group is investing P15.6 billion in power plants, starting with a new coal-fired plant in La Paz, Iloilo City.  Energy Renewable Asia poured P2.5 billion in power projects, while NV Vogt Singapore Pte., Ltd. developed P2.5 billion 5 to 10MW plant .  Dream Engineering Co. Ltd, likewise, invested P10 billion in a power plant and cable car facility that will connect Iloilo City and Guimaras Island.

          With all these ongoing investments, I told members of the Iloilo Business Club—one of the most dynamic private business clubs in the regions outside Metro Manila—that the growth of 12 per cent or more in their region will be made possible by the rise in  such industries as agribusiness, tourism, education, real estate, construction, and infrastructure.  The sustainability of their above-average growth can be assured even more if they are able to attract larger amounts of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), especially from our Northeast Asian neighbours like Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan, as well as our Southeast Asian colleagues like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.  I offered to help them mount investment road shows to these countries.  Metro Iloilo is one of the most marketable investment sites to foreign investors in the coming five to ten years.  For comments, my email address is