Traffic improvements, infra need to keep up with Cebu’s growth

TRAFFIC in Metro Cebu sustains the family of Wellmar Go, who left Bohol in the middle of this year to make a living by picking up passengers who need to get quickly to their destinations in an increasingly congested metropolis.

But while the demand for smaller vehicles that can weave in and out of the lines of cars keeps Go busy, for thousands of commuters, traffic congestion has become a daily ordeal. They spend hours sitting in the shadow of high-rise buildings.

Central Visayas’ economy, where Cebu is the major growth player, is targeted to grow between 6.4 and 6.9 percent in 2017. That is approximately P560 billion in gross regional domestic product (GRDP). Industry (which includes manufacturing, construction, and mining) and services (which includes business process outsourcing and tourism) are the key economic drivers, said National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) 7 Director Efren Carreon.

“The economy continues to grow,” he said. “But the infrastructure cannot keep up with the pace of this growth.”

Based on the preliminary data from NEDA 7, the first semester of 2017 saw growth in exports (earnings up by 30.2 percent), tourism (11.2 percent increase in foreign arrivals), and construction (up by 31.7 percent in the number of non-residential projects) versus the same period in 2016.

Bigger networks

Even the usually sluggish agriculture sector also grew in the first six months of the year, with agricultural production in the region increasing by 8.7 percent.

Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) president Melanie Ng defined 2017 as a “swirling” year, with massive opportunities being made available for the private sector as economic ties between Philippines and China grew warmer.

“This year, we are capturing these opportunities and building our network,” Ng said, pointing out the chamber’s various dialogues and collaborations with several government agencies as well as trade missions participated in by local business owners and chamber members in China, Japan, and Indonesia.

To reach out to the micro and small entrepreneurs , CCCI, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) has mentored over a hundred Cebu-based entrepreneurs this year through the Kapatid Mentor Me program.

Despite some measures to uplift the business sector, Ng said the ease of doing business in the country is still one major area that needs improvement.

“(On) ease of doing business, we have to continue our engagement with the government. Slowly with more engagements, they are opening up and seeing the private sector as a partner in progress,” she said.

This year also saw some unexpected challenges.

Cebu experienced a series of power interruptions when power plants in the Visayas grid were shut down following the 5.4-magnitude aftershock that jolted Ormoc City in Leyte, after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Jaro town in July this year.

An Abu Sayyaf squad’s arrival in Bohol in April and the siege of Marawi City that began last May 23 were unexpected challenges, too. So far, according to the NEDA 7, these have not affected the Central Visayas economy.

Mobility as priority

Traffic, on the other hand, has become a daily reality. This has crippled mobility in Metro Cebu, and commuters wanted the solutions yesterday. Only a few, like the motorcyle taxi (or habal-habal) driver Wellmar Go, see opportunity in the congested streets, where they weave across lines of cars and trucks to bring their passengers to their destinations as quickly as they can.

“I see this as a challenge for Cebu. We need to get our act together. Nindot (It would be good) if government will lead, and business will follow,” said Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) president Glenn Anthony Soco.

Cebu Province, as of December 2017, currently has 574,819 motor vehicles and motorcycles registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO). If the number of new vehicles will increase at the same pace or faster next year, Cebu may have 800,000 registered vehicles by the end of 2018.

To support Cebu’s growth, evident in the rise in consumer spending, business leaders called for more infrastructure projects, to include those that can decongest roads.

Bigger share

Soco believes Cebu should get a bigger share of the national budget to finance much-needed infrastructure projects in the province. If he were to base this on Cebu’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is approximately five percent, the province should get also five percent of the government’s budget.

For instance, Soco said that if the administration is spending P8 trillion for the Build Build Build program until the end of the Duterte administration in 2022, Cebu should get at least P480 billion.

“Other provinces are also aspiring for a bigger chunk of the budget. More infrastructure spending would mean more economic benefits for the local economy,” he said.

To date, major infrastructure projects in Cebu are the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), of which the detailed engineering design and supervision phase is set for completion in June 2021; the Mactan Cebu International Airport’s second terminal, which is set to open in July 2018; the Cebu Cordova Lane Expressway, for completion by the end of 2020; and the Metro Cebu Expressway that will lead from Naga to Danao.

NEDA 7 wants the private sector to support infrastructure projects by venturing into public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

“Joint ventures are encouraged. That is fine as long the infrastructure will be built and enjoyed by everyone,” Carreon said.

With more PPPs in place, especially in infrastructure, the NEDA official explained that government would then be able to allocate more resources for education and health.
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