Mindanao, MindaNow: Urban futures

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ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

FROM a do-nothing scenario, Mindanao can reach its high development potential through envisioning alternative futures. In the next six years under the Duterte administration, we have the chance to develop it into a model for cultural assimilation and diversity, and sustainable smart cities that emerging countries and economies can follow.

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For the past decades, we have always looked up to Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and countries in Europe and the Americas. And whenever we try to copy the best practices of these countries, many people think it’s impossible, “di naman tayo Singapore”. What these people forget is that since the 1970s countries like South Korea and Thailand have sent their people to train here, to learn from the brilliant minds of the Philippines. We trained their engineers, their agriculturists, even helped them adapt new technologies.

In 1977, the ruler of Dubai hired me as the only Southeast Asian architect to help plan and transform Dubai from a Third World into a First World country. in 15 years. And one of the inspirations of Dubai was the MMETROPLAN Manila 1975-1977 (where I was the senior planner) which planned eight LRT lines in 10 years, bus rapid transit systems, human settlement resiliency, and airports. In 1982, we had the most modern LRT in Asia, and it was my Singaporean friends who reminded me.

Our vision has always been fixated in becoming like one of these countries. No, Mindanao will not be the next Singapore or the next South Korea. It has the chance to go beyond, because we have the chance to learn from their best practices and from their mistakes. We should stop applying principles that were the model 40 years ago, like the car-centric Los Angeles model or even the gated subdivision design of Spanish Intramuros.

Known as the “Land of Promise,” Mindanao is characterized by long coastlines and mountains that are filled with unique flora and fauna. A third of its land is devoted to agriculture and supplies 40 percent of food to the entire Philippines. Its land area is three times the size of Taiwan, 88 times bigger than Hong Kong, and 136 times larger than Singapore.

The urban future of Mindanao
For a long time, it seemed that Mindanao was perceived as the backdoor to the Philippines. A closer look at the world map would show that Mindanao has a great opportunity to be the country’s frontdoor to Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea are within geographical proximity. Tawi-tawi and Zamboanga can focus on becoming the gateway to Southeast Asia, to the Philippines, and the Davao Gulf region has the opportunity to become the gateway to both Oceania and Southeast Asia.

Zamboanga and Tawi-tawi are so rich in culture and diversity that is unique and cannot be found elsewhere in the country. Davao on the other hand, is fast becoming one of the most critical trading hubs of the country. I think more than half of the people in Metro Manila have not visited Mindanao. Tawi-tawi and Zamboanga have the opportunity to attract more local tourists, and Davao should attract more tourists from the Oceania countries.

With these gateway cities in mind, with economic and trade hubs, it is important to develop primary, supplementary, and complementary production hubs, such as food production, raw-material processing, and education, that will expand the value chain of businesses.

Central Mindanao can become one of the models for the Agropolis (the farm in the city) where food production and city life are well integrated. We can adopt and enhance Japanese and Thai technology, and learn from the agricultural communities of Vietnam. What will make Mindanao agriculture standout is that we will learn from the technology and practices of our neighbors, but our species are naturally sweeter. We probably have one of the sweetest mangoes, bananas, and pineapples in the world. Whenever I talk to foreigners, one of the things about the Philippines they cannot forget besides Manila’s chaotic traffic is the fruits. China and Japan are some of our biggest fans. What farmers in Mindanao should develop is a sense of brand.

East and West Mindanao has the chance to adopt both Aerotropolis (airport-driven city) and Aquapolis (Seaport- and water transportation- driven city) models. In a value chain, the raw materials and processing of goods will be coming from central Mindanao, as well as research and technology centers for agricultural production. Then the edges become the central business districts, logistics and trade hubs, and major commercial centers.

Prioritizing development projects in Mindanao
Under the Duterte administration, the allocated budget for both the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Mindanao Development Authority has increased significantly. Infrastructure projects are also already in the pipeline like the Mindanao Railway System that will total 2,000 kilometers in length. The proposed railway system will interconnect Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, General Santos, Surigao and Iligan. Other infrastructure projects in Mindanao will include upgrading and modernization of airports and seaports, as well as road networks that will improve access to tourism destinations and farm-to-market roads. Another important crucial infrastructure that Mindanao should address is power, with a healthy mix of industrial and alternative energy, and potable water.

Last January 13, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao and pledged a trillion yen for infrastructure projects. The visit is seen to usher in more foreign investments, especially in Mindanao.

I believe with visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance, Mindanao can develop into a region that is much better than Metro Manila and can learn from its mistakes. Mindanao should adopt the globally competitive practices of the best countries of the world.

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8 Comments

  1. Mr. Palafox. I really admire your wisdom and ideas about our country. Where have you been? You had been around for so long, and look at our country especially M. Manila in gridlock.
    What happened to your bright ideas back then?
    If you had those things implemented and government leaders listened to you, we would probably be in a different and much better stage than now!
    You just cannot write on something, suggesting this and that without implementing? Do you agree?

  2. You are perceptive that Mindanao can be the front door of RP. Geographically it already greets global shipping via the straits of Malacca, and if geo-political tension rise further in the S China Sea, sea traffic diverts south and east of RP to continue the trading with economic giants Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

    S&E of RP have potential of becoming great port cities, Mindanao most of all. Unless ASG and Isis get a foothold to turns the Mindanao into another war zone hell like Damascus City, devastated already but destruction not at an end until not one brick is left lying upon another as foreseen in Bible prophecy.

    • my take on ISIS & ASG is for the people of Mindanao can only solve their problem. if majority of these citizens cooperate with law enforcing agencies, then these criminals don’t have place to go. until then, Mindanao full progress can’t be attained until people’s mindset changes.

  3. i wish after digong terms and once he had fulfilled all the infra projects there – it will secede to the Phils…and I will migrate my family there…there is no chance of hope here in luzon with those tagalog tribes at the helm of power..

  4. …What these people forget is that since the 1970s countries like South Korea and Thailand have sent their people to train here, to learn from the brilliant minds of the Philippines. We trained their engineers, their agriculturists, even helped them adapt new technologies… >>> FYI They didn’t sent their students to ONLY PH. In fact those who came here (in the past and present) are people who want to study abroad but haven’t got much money to go to other countries. In case of the students who got scholarship from their government, again those with lowest perforamance come here. Their top students go to other countries: Japan, USA, England, France, etc.

    You think you tought most of them, in fact very few of them come here.

    This happen since the past till today. You could research more and you will see what I said.

    I once said with a foreigner from one of the country you mentioned about the education of PH. You know, he siad that the problem of PH education is that you think you are the best, which is not, hence you were passed by other countries. PH is the victim of their own arrogance.

    And he is right.

    • @B: I think you entirely missed his point. And for me, if a certain individual considers a country as a place to get a certain professional degree for her/himself, I’m sure that place has really something good to offer. Lots of countries offer much lower than the Philippines’ educational expenses but people don’t go there.You don’t go to countries like Bangladesh even if it offers you free engineering courses, right?

      The author just wants to emphasize that the Philippines can be great too given the endless supplies of great minds we have here. Take note, from top to bottom positions, a Philippine manufacturing company doesn’t need specialized workers hired from abroad. Top to bottom, we can do it ourselves- we don’t need others, we can stand alone in any industrial setting. You can only find foreign workers in a company operating in the Philippines if it is a foreign-owned company and they mostly part of the management team or the owners. Most other countries hire specialist workers from outside their countries to sustain their operations & maintenance.

  5. Sancho Alconce on

    As observed t looks like mindanao has not made any significant progress when it comes to urban and regional planning. This is more observed in all its major cities like davao. Zoning and land use plans are arbitrary and reactionary. The private sector who often gets away after occupying lands meant for other purposes suggests that land conversion after the fact may may have influenced its legislation.

  6. Well said. Let us hope that Mindanao can chart a new course for itself. Manila is in many different ways – an example of what should not be done. Mindanao needs a new vision. It should be a place where diversity of peoples, economies, cultures, religions, histories, the urban and rural, the environment and human is well integrated. The hope should be for a Mindanao that stands above the others. I hope the country can begin to rise up to that challenge. It seems that the opportunity to do so has emerged. It would be a tragedy if all that comes out of this opportunity are more cities of slums, crime, hopelessness, and the wealthy lining their pockets with gold while the poor sleep in the streets.