As a major city in the Visayas, Iloilo has shown signs of great awakening. Eclipsed for most of the decades after the country’s independence, by Cebu and even by Bacolod, Iloilo has achieved quiet progress in the last two decades.
Today, the physical evidence is abundant. New roads – or much widened old roads – have multiplied space for future growth of commerce. It has a modern airport through which regional and some international travellers come and go. Points of growth within the city are rising from several directions.
“The hard part is being done.” The changes in Iloilo cannot be missed by anyone who has been familiar with the city, at least in the years before. The city is growing not only with people, but is on a building and rebuilding phase. Added property values are rising from these developments.
To widen roads, or to make way for dikes to protect the river banks, houses and people had to be moved. But to create significant changes and realignments, initial redesign, sometimes implying destruction of old structures, is inevitable. Local political will is required to achieve these and it has not been wanting.
In Iloilo’s case, the two-phase flood control development program has to be seen in line with the road building and flood control works. They are in the same geographic setting. It is inevitable for the same urban problems to arise, requiring common, interdependent solutions.
In the matter of transportation routes in the new areas of the city that are widened, the changes are indeed remarkable – some avenues doubled in road space. The city is busily paving roads and creating sidewalks as well as tree paths to change the look of the avenues within years.
The changes however have been coming in at a slow pace over time. The projects happened one at a time. But as they got implemented, they fitted well together, producing the overall effect of adding up for the better.
“Local political will and national politics.” In all these, the city had to find the financial resources to help fund the projects. Each major project required persistent approaches to and support from different directions. This came at the local level, at the level of planning the regional framework, and finally, making sure that the national government and its agencies are behind the actions.
The flood control problem was beyond the city’s financial capacity, necessitating a multi-year program of investment. Getting a new airport of good, respectable standard required national government support. Getting diligent backing up from the wheels of government is essential to achievement.
All these required the allocation of local and national funds, further supported by external development assistance (Japanese development assistance has been critical for flood control and Korean finance was useful in the airport infrastructure). The city’s allocation of funding for road building and other urban works demanded focus in priorities came along with strong support from national resources.
It helped a lot that Iloilo politics got a steady hand to help manage the process at the national level. This is in the person of Senator Franklin Drilon who provided steadfast support from the national scene. As the senior leader from the region and from the city, he has succeeded in melding three aspects of political influence that are helpful to fill the city’s needs – national influence, regional economic rationale, and the imperatives of local development.
It helped that the local politics was characterized by cooperativeness and not by internecine combat among local interests. There was more grounding in collective action. The city’s congressman (Jerry Trenas) and the city leadership (Mayor Jed Mabilog) could work together. And Drilon called the tune as well as gave support.
In this setting, the local mayor could pursue his plans, get support from the national leaderships and therefore is able to accomplish the work on the ground. Thus. in Iloilo, there is economic economic synergy in the work of the local and national leaders.
“The future is yet to come.” Today, the signs for the future are already written in various ongoing projects that are in place.
The former old airport area is currently the site for a major commercial and mixed use business area where a regional convention center is also rising. Along with this, new hotel facilities are also in the works.
Thus, the city is positioned to tap regional and national conferences and expand new business opportunities as well as broaden the appeal for tourism. Buildings for call centers and other BPO businesses are being constructed. Megaworld, the property company, has been successful in developing new business communities centered on the BPO industry.
The Ayala group has also invested in call center buildings to encourage new BPO investments. The SM mall that was set up in an isolated part of town, has transformed this area into a new growth area for commerce.
“Pressures from competition and opportunities for further expansion.” There are further developments that are working in Iloilo’s favor.
First is that the continued growth of regional city competitors is also bringing new businesses to fuel Iloilo’s growth. Investments from BPO industries are moving southward, and Iloilo continues to attract.
Second is the impact of Caticlan (and Boracay) in northern Panay on the commerce and tourism of Iloilo. Urban amenities in this area are growing (a new, enlarged airport is actively under construction in Caticlan to be developed by San Miguel Corporation.) Iloilo is likely to benefit potentially from such development.
Third is the link of the country’s central nautical highway for ro-ro traffic. This traffic is between Luzon and Mindanao and Iloilo is in a strategic location of that traffic.
Today, such commercial traffic is not yet sufficiently large to make a major impact. However, in the future, the potential of interisland commerce on Iloilo and on the island of Panay could be significant even as the national economy grows. Today, a bus journey could start in Cubao and end up in Iloilo. Imagine if the same could be expanded for private traffic and for a bigger volume of commercial trade between the regions.