METROPOLITAN Davao is evolving into one of the critical centers of national economic growth and development. It is seen as one of the primary gateways of the Asia Pacific, and the rest of the world to Mindanao. The potential of unlocking the Mindanao market is gaining a lot of interest among both foreign and local business investors. Through Davao, development is knocking at the door of Mindanao. This is possibly the best chance that we have to finally alleviate poverty in Mindanao.
Geographically, the Davao Gulf area (more than 300,000 hectares) is much bigger than the Manila Bay area (over 200,000 hectares). The Davao Gulf can house the biggest seaport of the country and become the trading gateway to the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and to the Oceania countries of Australia, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand.
The total land area of all the cities and municipalities around the Davao Gulf is 868,598 hectares. This includes the municipalities of Panabo, Carmen, Tagum, Island Garden of Samal, Mabini, Maco, Pantukan, Banaybay, Lupon, San Isidro, Governor Generoso, Davao City, Sta. Cruz, Digos, Hagonoy, Padada, Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, and Jose Abad Santos.
The Davao Gulf megalopolis is 16 times the size of Singapore, four times the size of Hong Kong, and twice the size of Dubai. We need to realize that there is more to our country beyond Metro Manila and start considering what other regions have to offer.
Jumpstarting the megalopolis
1. Integrate adjacent cities of the Davao Gulf area. Metropolitan Davao plays a critical role in integrating Mindanao, and it needs to learn from the mistakes of Metro Manila, especially in terms of city planning and urban development. Metro Davao needs to develop the adjacent cities inside the Davao Gulf into complimentary and supplementary industries. It has the capacity to become a center for value-added and post-production, especially for agri-industrial produce. It is ideal for Metro Davao to be the center for value-adding services because of its fully functioning seaport, its seaport’s capacity to expand, and because of the Metro’s capacity to give high-quality education. The adjacent cities can also serve as counter-magnet developments to avoid high-density urban sprawl and centricity of commercial development in few areas.
2. Improve mass transportation. One of the biggest problems of Metropolitan Cebu and Metro Manila today is severe traffic congestion. According to a study done by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, around P2.4 billion lost because of traffic congestion. It is important that mobility and access for all citizens are provided.
3. Inter-regional transport. The Development of the Mindanao Rail is critical in the development of Mindanao, especially in moving goods, products and cargo. This will open up access to areas that can be primed for development. The railway can interconnect key cities such as Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Surigao, and Butuan, among others. On the other hand, it is important that the mass transport system be integrated to the international airport and seaport. With the expected improvement of the Davao International Airport, expect a drastic increase in domestic and foreign arrivals. It can be expected that the 8.3 percent gross domestic output during 2016 will steadily increase, as foreign direct investments and new economic opportunities would soon emerge.
4. Tourism development. Davao offers a lot more than her famous durian and banana plantations. One cannot miss going to the Samal islands, and visiting the indigenous communities such as the Manobos and Bagobos. Moreover, Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental has been named a Unesco world heritage site. The highest mountain peak in the country, Mt. Apo, is also located in Davao.
5. A more walkable and bikeable Metro Davao. Metropolitan Davao needs to act fast before it transforms into the next Metro Manila. No metropolis should copy the urban design of Metro Manila. Whenever I visit cities and municipalities around the country and ask the locals what is their dream and vision for their community, the response that I often receive are these: we want to be the next Makati; we want to be like Manila with all of its business opportunities. With this I respond by asking them if they want to have the “traffic grabe” of Metro Manila, as well as three-hour commutes, less family time, rising housing costs, un-walkable streets, poorly lit neighborhoods, and smog-filled air? I go as far as asking them if they want to have their own EDSA.
6. Water transportation. The Metro can also develop its water transportation by inter-connecting cities across the Davao Gulf and entry to downtown Davao through the Davao River. The leaders of the Davao Gulf Megalopolis area should also realize that waterfronts have amenity value and are considered to be prime real estate in developed nations. The waterfront should not be treated as back of the house but as areas of value and social space.
I believe that the next six years will give our country an opportunity for genuine reform and change. Mindanao is taking a major step in the right direction by prioritizing projects that will improve connectivity, convergence, context, corridors and networks. Instead of putting up walls, the Philippines should be building more bridges. Improving peace and order as well as promoting unity in diversity will also be crucial for growth to be inclusive. With this, bringing the Philippines well into the 21st century—a globally competitive country—will soon be in the horizon.
I really do not believe that religious difference is the central problem with peace in Mindanao, but the ability to provide quality of life, education, healthcare, and jobs. I’ve been to more than 2,000 cities and 71 countries around the world, helped more than 39 countries, and jump-started my career in Dubai, a Muslim country. Religious diversity can co-exist with respect and be able to achieve cultural, economic, and social richness and vibrancy.