Sabal: Challenges facing an emerging metropolis

EVERY 28th day of August, we commemorate the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who is known to be the patron saint of Cagayan de Oro. The Higalaay Festival showcases the different customs and traditions of this northernmost area of Mindanao.

The festival also serves as a reminder to the people of Cagayan de Oro on its glorious history, ranging from being the home of the bravest shoulders who fought for independence against our foreign oppressors to a salient place to most important events that happened in Mindanao.

Cagayan de Oro (CdeO) has faced numerous challenges in the past. Now, it is facing a major transformation as an emerging growth center and the next metropolitan city in the Philippines.

Strategically coined as the gateway to Mindanao, we have seen a massive and abrupt expansion of CdeO in recent years.

Its growth trajectory escalated quickly right after Sendong (internationally named Washi) hit this city in 2011. To recall, this typhoon killed more than a thousand Kagay-anons, injured almost 5,000 people, and damaged almost 13,000 houses. Until this writing, there are still more than a thousand missing.

The aftermath saw the massive influx of money for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, mostly in form of financial grants and aids from the national government and international non-government organizations (INGOs).

For some time, Cagayan de Oro has become the basket of these financial support from various groups. The effects of these interventions created a bubble to the local economy –reviving the vibrant business in town, building infrastructure projects (e.g., housing, bridges, roads, etc.), and creating more job opportunities to residents.

The influx of money kept the local economy running and stirring, creating a multiplier effect. Right after Sendong, so many multi-national companies invested in the city –completely changing the local economic (and even political) landscape of Cagayan de Oro.

Based on the 2016 study of the Social Sciences of Xavier University, in partnership with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), CdeO’s population has surpassed the half-million mark in 2010 and is estimated to reach almost a million in around 10 years’ time. The local economy is predominantly retail and wholesale oriented.

The city government’s tax revenue has reached a billion pesos in 2012. In 2018, we have been named as the top five most competitive city in the Philippines.

However, this recent development comes with several challenges, such as the growing concern on traffic, increasing number of crimes, and urban flooding to name some.

Although, some Economists consider traffic as an indicator of progress, the city’s traffic is worsening –almost as the same of that in Metro Manila. The presence of traffic hinders productivity to economic agents (i.e., consumer, producers, and government).

The obvious and immediate response to this problem is to expand roads. True enough, our roads failed to adjust to the growing number of people and business transactions happening in this city. We don’t have proper drainages to address urban flooding.

For instance, a few hours of rain causes massive flooding in some of our major thoroughfares. Traffic lights must help alleviate the issue of traffic but, if not defective, are not synchronized. You have to stop in every crossroads and wait for many minutes to cross the other block.

In the short-run, the government can expand our road networks, build comprehensive drainage system, and create an effective traffic and rerouting scheme to lessen the number of hours spent by economic agents in our roads.

The long-term solution is to dismantle the nodes of businesses and investments within the city and spread it over to nearby places. Traffic is present because there is booming business.

When Manila became the capital of this country, we saw the massive influx of growth and development opportunities in that city –helping Manila reach its glorious days.

This concentration of opportunities has spilled-over to nearby places, creating another nodes of business and investments in Makati City, Quezon City, and recently Taguig City. Same is true in Cebu City to cities of Mandaue, Danao, and adjacent areas.

Cagayan de Oro is now a game-changer in the region. It’s time for this city to completely embrace it and lead the distribution of opportunities to other municipalities and cities surrounding it. The city proper should become the center of heritage-conserving service-oriented districts.

I’ve heard that Ayala is expanding to the capitol compound, with the goal of preserving the historical capitol building in the middle of a huge consumer center. Cebu Landmaster is transforming the Corrales campus of Xavier University (XU) into a commercial and residential place, promising that the pre-war Lucas Hall will be preserved.

The new XU campus will be transferred to uptown Cagayan de Oro, creating an expected worsening traffic concern in that area. The main campus of the University of Science and Technology of the Southern Philippines (USTP) will be transferred somewhere in Alubijid, temporarily addressing the urban flooding along Lim Ket Kai.

Cagayan de Oro is massively growing, the government has to step-up its game and prepare the necessary infrastructure to support these recent changes. There must also be sustainable development policies to address inequality and abate the side-effects of growth (i.e., crimes).

This city must not only be a leader in Northern Mindanao but in the Philippines as well. As still emerging, the government can do a lot to transform Cagayan de Oro as the first green city in the country–a place where both growth and sustainable climate resilient development are present.

A city where there is a balance between heritage and future. A city where there is respect and care for the environment amidst the growing opportunities of capitalism. There is so much that we can do to position Cagayan de Oro to be a truly global city.


(Jhon Louie B Sabal is a faculty of the Department of Economics and the Research Coordinator of the Social Sciences cluster of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. Sabal is a graduate of MA in Economics at Ateneo de Manila University.)


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