Home » SCMAP Perspective » Does Mindanao Need its Own Clark?

This year’s Supply Chain Immersion will be considerably different from previous years, as we won’t be riding a ship to our destination city. Instead we’ll be taking a bus and heading north, to Clark and then to Subic, the nerve centers of Central Luzon’s emerging business and logistics hub. It’s a no-brainer. For the past couple of decades it’s been an attractive destination for locators both domestic and international; and with recent and upcoming infrastructure projects spearheaded by the government—the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, the Subic-Clark cargo rail link, the ambitious New Clark City—it’s set to become a focal point for this country’s development.

 

The development of Clark and Subic also illustrates the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors in enabling growth to other parts of the Philippines. Granted, the conditions were ideal to begin with: the infrastructure and facilities the Americans left behind were a good starting point. But the region’s growth would not be this profound if not for the continued coordination between the government, who recognized the potential of the former military bases, and the private sector, who helped steer all concerned towards the right direction. My recent visit to Clark for SCMAP North Luzon’s first Kapihan Session illustrated the strength of industry and locator groups in bringing forward concerns to government agencies, who thankfully are receptive to the need to maintain the region’s competitiveness. This comes in handy as the national government pushes with further decentralization, looking towards the regions to both decongest Manila and to bring the rewards of a booming economy ever closer.

 

That brings me to Mindanao, a region that, despite efforts, has been undeniably left behind. Government figures put the highest poverty incidence in the Philippines in several regions in Mindanao: the ARMM, a 48.2%, is the highest, followed by the CARAGA region (at 30.8%) and Region X (30.3%). Many factors are at play, but perhaps most notable is the peace and order situation in the island, stretching back decades, discouraging both the public and private sectors from investing there. While we have seen growth in recent years, these have been limited to major urban centers such as Davao and Cagayan de Oro, cities that have proven to be more resilient in the face of both natural calamities and domestic terrorism.

 

The Duterte administration’s infrastructure program seeks to redress the balance by setting some projects in Mindanao, but apart from the planned Mindanao Railway (whose first phase, connecting Tagum, Davao and Digos, is set to open in 2022) these projects are of smaller scale—perhaps a testament to how much planning has gone to projects in Luzon and Visayas across the years. Enhancing links between Mindanao’s major cities—and its farms, important considering the region’s reliance on agriculture—can spur growth, but the current limitations of port facilities in Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos might hold back the network’s potential.

 

Does Mindanao need its own Clark, then? I don’t mean something exactly like current plans for Clark. As it stands, the region isn’t conducive to be home to high-level manufacturing like in automotive parts or semiconductors: both internal and external connections just aren’t robust enough. Also, the service industries will still flock to Davao or Cagayan de Oro. But Mindanao’s agricultural sector needs a boost, and perhaps a new nerve center there, forming part of a new agri-corridor in the region, might just spur it.

 

How about a highway connecting CDO with Davao and General Santos, and another one connecting Zamboanga with, say, Surigao? What if we build a new “agri-city” on the intersection of these two highways, acting as a “bagsakan” for the produce grown in Mindanao? Like the mooted food processing terminal at New Clark City, it can integrate all these farmers and producers with the country’s supply chain network, with easy access to the region’s major seaports and airports, leading to Cebu and Manila in the north, and to our regional neighbors, particularly Indonesia, in the south.

 

As we’ve seen in Clark and Subic, continuous collaboration between the public and private sectors—both sides understanding what the other needs, and working towards a solution that benefits all—can go a long way in spurring development and economic growth. The conditions in Mindanao may just be right in the coming years. May we not waste the opportunity, whether it be with a grand vision like what I just made up, or otherwise.

 

General Membership Meeting: Our next GMM is scheduled for April 19, from 1pm to 5pm, at the Discovery Suites in Pasig City. We will be tackling last mile logistics, presenting opportunities for the new frontier in supply chain. More information will be available in the coming weeks on our website, scmap.org, and our social media channels – and you can register there, too, if you’re interested.

 

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

 

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