(First of two parts)
Remember the transport mess during the 2015 APEC Summit? It’s not that hard considering we just went through Asean 2017, which by some accounts was worse. How did we do it? Well, we practically had the same planners, the same plan and the same characters.
When it comes to summit planning, traffic and everything else is second priority after the all-important need to ensure VIP safety. There’s no bidding a repeat good-bye given these givens:
Yes, we will be hosting more summits. Why? Because, our country is a participant and a beneficiary of the global order. As a member of this community and its hundreds of “clubs”, we have duties to attend to and one of this is to host summits from time to time, much like rehashes of popular films.
These will most likely still be held in Metro Manila, simply because only the metropolis has all the necessary facilities: huge convention centers; top-class hotels, wide roads to secure VIP convoys from ambushes/attacks; airport connections, etc. Metro Cebu could be an alternative and unless Subic and/or Clark level up, hosting summits in one venue in Luzon can only mean Manila.
Roads will still be commandeered and severe lockdown measures imposed even if two new elevated expressways finally get up and running. As security risks multiply, the size of the security force, the list of security “must-haves” and the disruption to day-to-day civilian lives will also expand.
We are not newbies to staging such global events. In 1976, our proud country hosted the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting. Tapping sizable foreign loans, the Marcos administration prepared the Bay area reclamation, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) and several new-build four- and five-star hotels across the cities of Manila, Pasay and Makati. Private businessmen pitched in by lending several hundred brand new Mercedes Benz sedans for VIP transport.
In those days, our road building was just slightly behind the demand curve as a newly prosperous middle class was hungry for whatever the Progressive Car Manufacturing Program could churn out. Upgrading EDSA with underpasses had eased traffic so the traffic and security measures needed were not as severe as they are today. Terrorist threats then were also a lot less sophisticated.
The success of the IMF-WB meeting led to the growth and professionalization of the events, banquet catering, international convention services (interpreters, concierges) and tourist/hospitality industries. We grew accustomed to hosting international sporting, finance, film, boxing and international beauty pageants, interrupted by the economy’s lurch into stasis in the 1980s up to the early 1990s.
With our economy crawling out of the 1990s power shortage mess and the debt default of the early 1980s, the Ramos administration dared to host the newly minted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Recovering from the Pinatubo eruption and exploring the potential of the ex-US bases of Subic and Clark, the government tied up with moneyed private sector interests to provide the international world leaders with quality lodging and summit facilities in Triboa, Subic.
Hosting the APEC summit in Subic served two purposes: to promote Subic and Clark as new foreign investment-friendly zones that were ready to serve with international class business facilities; and to isolate security issues to Subic rather than afflict already congested Manila with even more traffic.
With stature came responsibilities
The country’s memberships and roles in global associations continued to grow but our ability to host was not able to catch up, unfortunately, which ultimately forced the Aquino administration to host the 2015 APEC summit in Metro Manila. Much of Subic’s 1990s-era APEC facilities had deteriorated and even if these had been serviceable, the size and number of delegates had vastly expanded.
APEC 2015 brought with it severe disruption, not only for Metro Manila road traffic but also at the hyper-congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) where lockdown and no-fly-times whenever delegations arrived not only screwed up local flights but also departure times and dates for those going abroad.
It was with this in mind that the Duterte administration said it preferred to host the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Clark and, well, we know how things turned out.
To be continued
Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN
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