Moving public investments East

BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

What are the minimum goals of state investments?

• They should go to areas and sectors that need them most
• They should yield the maximum social and economic benefits
• They should be cost efficient
•They should be game-changers

Really, what can beat state investments that meet the test of both cost-efficiency and maximum yield? Plus the fulfillment of the game-changing yardstick.

Meeting all these goals would tempt most in the state bureaucracy to invest in the traditional growth areas: Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon. Because that investment strategy would yield real returns. And the visibility of investments in the traditional growth areas — which are within the media loop —enhance the PR of the administration doing this.

This is the orthodox way of doing things.

But if I were in investment planning for the state, I would resist that temptation and go for the non-traditional destinations for public funds. I would rethink the whole investment paradigm. I would invest heavily in provinces that require push, or what we call in the vernacular “ayuda,” to meet their great economic potentials. Provinces facing the Pacific that are raring to fulfill their dreamed-of Great Leap Forward. Aurora, for example. Or, Eastern Samar.

The geographical shift of the investment strategy will also empower, to use a bureaucratic word, eastern provinces that have been lagging behind their western counterparts, those along the China Sea, in growth since time immemorial. The East would be provided with a much-needed investment boost.

If tourism is indeed a sector that would enjoy a 21st century boom , then there is no other place with more awesome tourism resources than Aurora. In small colonies of budget tourists across the globe, it is the equivalent of a tropical paradise—a discovery they do not even want to share, even online. There are foreign surfers who visit Aurora every year not only to catch the waves but to enjoy a few days in what they feel is non-commercialized tourism.

From Baler, the capital town, you can spread out into all directions, no need for guides , and you would find beautiful beaches, unspoiled mangrove formations, kids lugging mini surfing gears, roaring waterfalls and old-growth timber stand.

On occasions, you can spot the scions of dollar billionaires revving their KTMs and off-roaders trailed by SUVs that carry their gears and supplies.

Deeper east, you will find white sand beaches in Dinadiawan, in Dinalugang town along the main highway.
But this is just a dress rehearsal for the bigger surprise.

Several kilometers more, before the mountains and the forests disappear to give way to the vast Pacific, very near the remote town where Aguinaldo was captured, you will find vast stretches of white sand beaches. This place is called Casapsapan in the town of Casiguran, which we are all familiar with. Because it is the distance from this town by which weather forecasters measure the proximity of typhoons to the so-called Philippine Area of Responsibility. The place is better than Boracay and one can draw tourism plans from scratch—without fear of e coli.

Plus one more thing: the political leaders of the place have CVs (and technocratic savvy), which, if not impressive , is the most impressive in the country. The governor was the salu-tatorian in her UP Law class and was offered a Yale scholarship. The congressman trained at the London School of Economics, UP Law and Harvard law. The senator-patriarch is so often profiled for his achievements that it would take so many books to record these all. The first president of the Philippine Commonwealth government was also born and raised in Baler.

Eastern Samar is just as endowed with spectacular tourism sites. A former co-worker of mine who is wrapping up his two terms as governor (he is the new lone district congressman) has lifted his province out of the Club 20, the poorest of the poor provinces. The province has been exceeding the development targets under his leadership, especially the critical benchmarks on education and health.

Given enough capital to put in place a decent infrastructure, the province can double its GDP contribution within the medium-term, said my former co-worker. It can be a global tourism spot, a BPO center, a processor of agricultural goods. It can be anything and it can go anywhere with its resources and people.

In the whole process of rethinking the national government’s investment strategy, the planners of the new administration should venture east, the places that Imperial Manila has wrongly viewed as the weather-beaten, hopeless areas facing the Pacific.

The east has lagged in the whole development process not because the leaders do not have the capability to run ambitious development programs. And the absorptive capacity is questionable.
The investment planners of government should say: We should go East, Man.

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