Bernardo M. Villegas
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Batangas: The Next Metro Manila (Part 1)

          Among the megacities that can compete with Metro Manila in attracting investments, both domestic and foreign, in the next decade or so is the province of Batangas, located at the southernmost edge of western Luzon Island.  Strategically situated in the heart of the second richest region (after the National Capital Region) of the Philippine Archipelago, Batangas has a total land area of 316,581 hectares, occupying 18.8 percent of the total land area of Calabarzon.  At present, the province is made of 31 municipalities and 3 component cities (Batangas City, Lipa City and Tanauan City)—with Sto. Tomas soon to be constituted a city.  The province is further subdivided into 1,078 barangays with a population size of 2,694,335 (PSA, 2015).

         Among the aspiring megacities (the Pampanga Triangle, Metro Iloilo, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao), Metro Batangas stands out for its highly diversified economic profile.  It is already a leading industrial area with hundreds of manufacturing enterprises populating its numerous industrial zones.   It captures a large part of domestic tourism as its famous beaches (e.g. Matabungkay, Nasugbu, Jamilo Coast, San Juan, etc.) are favorite weekend destinations of the Metro Manila residents.  Batangas is well known for its rich biodiversity, particularly in the diving spots of Anilao, and Verde Island Passage, a protected marine sanctuary.  It also boasts of the famous Taal Volcano and its Taal Lake as well as numerous beaches and dive/snorkeling sites. Mountaineers can explore grassy knolls such as Mt. Maculot in Cuenca; Mt. Batulao and Mt. Talamitam in Nasugbo; and Gulugod Baboy in Mabini, a beginner-friendly hike that can be capped off with a swim at nearby Sombrero Island.

     In addition to the attractions of nature, the province is also considered a favorite for cultural tourism since it is known to be the “Cradle of Noble Heroes”, being the birthplace of such national figures as Apolinario Mabini, Miguel Malvar, Felipe Agoncillo, and Claro M. Recto, among others.   It is also well known for historical landmarks and cultural heritage buildings such as the ancestral houses in Taal Heritage Town.  As one of the earliest provinces to join the revolution against the Spanish colonizers, Batangas earned the right to be represented in one of the rays of the sun on the Philippine flag.  Its services sector is also bolstered by a good number of high-quality educational institutions at the tertiary level.  To complete the diversified profile, the province is also a major food belt for the National Capital Region being a major producer of high-value agribusiness products such as fruits, vegetables, poultry, hogs and fish products.

         A modern international seaport was built in Batangas City as an alternative to the highly congested Manila ports.  The city is a major port for inter-island shipping and the main exit point for travelers to Mindoro Island, Visayas, and Mindanao using the roll-on/roll-off (RORO) system.  Its passenger traffic has already surpassed the Manila ports in volume. Travel to Batangas City from Metro Manila has been facilitated by an expressway built to connect the capital city to the South Expressway.  As will be discussed below, there are plans of the provincial Government, in tandem with private investors (through the PPP mode) to build a cargo train from Calamba, Laguna to the Batangas international seaport as well as an international cargo airport in the municipalities of Alitagtag  and San Pascual.  A plan of the provincial government to double the capacity of the international seaport will enable Metro Batangas to compete with the only other potential megacity that will be endowed with a trimodal (land, sea and air) means of transport for its industrialization and urbanization plan, which is the Clark-Subic component of the so-called Pampanga Triangle. 

         The Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) of Batangas has been a major contributor to the economic growth of the Calabarzon region.  Among the Philippine regions outside of the National Capital Region, Calabarzon (Region IVA) has the highest GRDP contribution (14.7%), surpassing Central Luzon’s share (9.2%) in 2017 in current prices.  Calabarzon posted real per capita GDRP higher than the then national average at P99,328.  The region also accounted for the bulk of the country’s total industry output at 30.6% in 2017, higher than even the National Capital Regions’ share of 19.0% and Central Luzon’s 13.0%.  A recent decision of Steel Asia to locate a major steel manufacturing operation in Lemery, Batangas has solidified the position of Batangas as a major industrial hub complementing its role as the petrochemical center of the country.  Steel and petrochemicals are among the most important indicators of heavy industrialization.  In the services sector, Calabarzon also had the second largest share (after Metro Manila) of the total output of services with 9.6%, better than the Central Luzon’s 6.4% share.

         Despite a possible slowdown in the global economy because of the uncertainties resulting from the trade war between the U.S. and China and the possibility of a No Deal Brexit, investments are expected to continue pouring into the Calabarzon region because of major infrastructure development such as road and railway networks, ports, bridges and other infrastructures, notably in the province of Batangas.  Many investments being planned in the Batangas province, such as the biggest poultry project of Jollibee in partnership with Cargill, an international commodities conglomerate, are focused on the domestic market which is expected to continue to grow at over 6 percent annually. Cargill Joy Poultry Meats Production, Inc. (C-Joy) is programmed to produce 45 million dressed and marinated chickens per year and will generate some 1,000 new jobs.   In 2017, the Board of Investments (BOI) reported a record-breaking investment approval figure of Php 617 billion, with Batangas province cornering the bulk or Php 165.3 billion of the total pledges.  In the first quarter of 2018, the Calabarzon region attracted investment commitments amounting to Php 60.6 billion. 

         The renewable energy sector continued its strong momentum to top all sectors in investment approvals with Php 168 billion as of September 2018, up 49% from 2017’s Php 112.8 billion.  The manufacturing sector sustained its robust outlook with Php 103.8 billion, a 185% leap from Php 36.5 billion the year before.  The transportation and storage sector also continued on a roll with Php 102 billion a 56.8% jump from the previous year’s Php 15.3 billion during the same period.  During the first quarter of 2018, Calabarzon cornered the bulk of total approved foreign direct investments (FDIs) with 52%, a significant chunk of which was funnelled to Batangas Province.  (To be continued).