My column last Sunday (“East Visayas needs a vision and program of rebuilding, not a czar”) drew a number of comments, some agreeing with my analysis, and others dismayed by my reservations about Senator Panfilo Lacson’s appointment as rehabilitation czar. I shall defer replying to these comments to a later column, and will keep an open mind pending the drafting and passage of a law for the rebuilding of East Visayas.
Today, I will discuss mainly the imperative for a law that will create and empower an agency or public corporation that will take charge or lead in the reconstruction and development of East Visayas.
The Subic experience appeals to some as a model because of the analogous disaster triggered by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, and the success of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority led by its first chairman Richard Gordon in developing the former US naval base into a freeport and duty-free zone, complete with airport and port facilities.
There are limitations to this model. The Subic enabling law involved only the takeover and redevelopment of the former base facility; it did not encompass the development of the communities adjoining the base—Olongapo City and the towns of Subic, Zambales and Morong, Bataan, which together have a comparatively small population.
East Visayas consists of six provinces and seven cities. It has a land area of 2,156 hectares with a population of 4,101,322 people.
Several friends—a development economist and a management consultant—have suggested that the models that should be studied are The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project in the United States and the Zuider Zee project in the Netherlands, which have had far-reaching success, are hailed as outstanding feats of building and development.
Landmark program battled Depression
The TVA became a landmark program of the New Deal strategy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in meeting the challenge of lifting America out of the great Depression.
Zuider Zee is the epic project of the Dutch to make land out of sea. It added half a million acres to their country, enlarging its area by eight percent and providing homes, farms and towns to a quarter of a million people. The historian Barbara Tuchman hails this earth-altering act as one of mankind’s greatest moments.
In the case of the TVA, President Roosevelt needed innovative solutions to lift his nation out of the Great Depression. And TVA was one of his most innovative ideas. Roosevelt envisioned TVA as a totally different kind of agency. He asked Congress to create “a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.” On May 18, 1933, Congress passed the TVA Act.
Roosevelt’s big idea was to bring electrification to the rural areas, so that rural families and communities could be brought into the mainstream of American cultural and economic life.
The TVA is a federally owned corporation tasked to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly affected by the Great Depression. TVA was envisioned not only as a provider, but also as a regional economic development agency that would use federal experts and electricity to rapidly modernize the region’s economy and society.
TVA’s service area covers most of Tennessee, portions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, and small slices of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. It was the first large regional planning agency of the federal government and remains the largest.
Under the leadership of David Lilienthal (“Mr. TVA”), TVA became a model for America’s efforts to assist in the modernization of agrarian societies in the developing world.
The TVA story is apposite and fitting to the challenge facing East Visayas because of the following factors:
First, East Visayas is one of the poorest regions of the country. It is prone to natural disasters, because of its position facing the Pacific.
Second, its resource endowments fit a large-scale program incorporating power generation, electricity distribution, flood control, agricultural and industrial development.
East Visayas is the biggest geothermal producer in the country. Leyte is host to the biggest geothermal plant in Tongonan.
Third, East Visayas is a major pillar of the coconut industry. It also possesses two major agricultural valleys, Leyte Valley and Ormoc Valley, which are highly productive of rice, sugar and abaca.
Fourth, East Visayas is a major fishery producer, because of its rich fishing grounds.
Fifth, the region has a good number of educational institutions, both private and public that offer both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. There are agricultural, medical and maritime schools.
Sixth, the population is highly literate. Many overseas Filipino workers, both skilled and semi-skilled hail from the region. Biliran supplies many seafarers to the international shipping industry.
World-class effort can rebuild ‘Yolanda’ areas
Asia Development Bank economist Joseph Zveglich has estimated that the effect of Yolanda could be anywhere from 2.5 to 5 percent of the GDP. “You have to look at the loss of livelihoods, the devastation of farm areas and the lack of production.
During reconstruction, resources are also going to be stretched, and there is only so much internal capacity. There has to be an international response.”
In short, there is no room for a less than a world-class effort to rebuild East Visayas and the regions affected by Yolanda. The total bill for rebuilding could run to several billion dollars.
The national government has raised its budget for post-“Yolanda” reconstruction from P38.8 billion to P40.9 billion, But Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has estimated it would take “over a hundred billion pesos ($2.2 billion) of reconstruction, from livelihood, commerce, social services,” as well as infrastructure and power facilities while officials said rebuilding will take up to five years.
Whatever the cost and however long it takes, the reconstruction and development of East Visayas must start posthaste.
It will take energetic development planners, experienced engineers and serious economists to come up with an effective development plan and program.
The local governments and private sector must join in preparing the rebuilding plan. An effective campaign to engage foreign investors in East Visayas development should be part and parcel of the plan.
The TVA project was energized by the realization that narrow policies had created a separate America that needed to be brought to the mainstream of modern life that most Americans were living.
Franklin Roosevelt’s greatness lay in his imagination that there was a way to rescue and lift up this separate and isolated America, and his inflexible resolution to make it come to pass.
May we find in our Congress and in the national government the same largeness of spirit and resolution to lift up East Visayas.