Atty. Romeo G. Roxas, Romy to his friends, is having double-vision – figuratively. Standing on his corner office overlooking Ayala’s Makati development, he sees the effort put into the land, from a raw price of P50 per square meter back in the day to a steep P200,000 — a condo in Rockwell goes for P25 million. At nearby Bonifacio Global City, real estate prices go for around P500, 000 a square. Yet, those astounding figures and those gigantic skyscrapers pay a hefty human and economic price for the Filipino, hence, the contrast of visions.
Feeling the pulse of the city, Romy’s lenses are that of an economist, a marketer, and a financial genius backed up by his MBA from Alexander Hamilton University of Alberta, Canada; and extensive economics and finance courses at Harvard. In his book entitled “Pathways to Progress,” he stresses the important role of money in creating value through financing development by the government’s flotation of bonds to be collateralized by future taxes from respective local government grantees.
Being a seasoned land banker, his acquiring companies have accumulated 80,000 hectares of timberland in Aurora and Quezon, and just recently, 1.1 million hectares in the Northern Territory, Australia. He was also the former top operations honcho at Magdalena in the 60s, “the biggest project developer at that time” (Project 1-10 in QC).
He financed and managed the turnaround of the Philippine Veterans Bank, turning it into a billion peso player in the financial services industry. He was also the former top marketer of Ysmael steel, a current licensee of both the Philippine and New York legal boards.
He sees the Makati gem as just a piece of an overgrown puzzle that continues to baffle all the traffic and development czars thrown in by the government, that, according to a recent study by JICA, Metro Manila traffic alone costs us almost a trillion pesos per year. Moreover, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) estimates that almost 50% of those residing in the National Capital Region (NCR) are informal settlers.
The biggest question in Atty. Roxas’ mind is, “Why are we so uncaring that we allow people to live in squalid poverty? We take pride in living in a cramped 20 square-meter condo, we bask in the artificial cooling provided by giant malls, we marvel at the water show from public fountains, we get enthralled by visual electronic light displays, by amusement theme parks offering purely mechanical thrills when we could usher in the 2020’s with a 500 sqm. House and lot with a nursery at the back.
We can live and own a tree house, better, perhaps traverse walkways among the trees, zip line our way to thrills, hang-out in our waterfall systems, enjoy breakfast under the warmth of the sun then take a swim in the Pacific, experience the country’s largest live river, the Umiray, enjoy a night camping in the wild with the fireflies, the stars, and a bonfire illuminating you as you listen to Sierra Madre nocturnal music.
Often, and passionately, he laments, “Why are we neglecting the East? Why do we allow our people to be squatters in our own country when we have a lot of idle, prime, naturally-developed- by-nature-land in the East? Why do we keep on enjoying the sunset when we have lots of land offering us unlimited sunrise? Why do we turn our back on good fengshui? – the East beckons.”
All of that is the motivation behind ELSSS which stands for Eastern Luzon Seaboard Strategic Scheme, a multiregional development plan that will aim to develop the Eastern Luzon seaboard, more popularly known as the Sierra Madre mountain range, through the creation of new cities from Tuguegarao to, eventually, Sorsogon.
In the commissioned study of ELSSS, developing the East will accomplish three major goals:
- Prevent resource degradation that can result from a rapidly growing demand for food, fuel and fiber, and from poor stewardship due to poverty, ignorance, and corruption;
- Preserve valuable natural forests, wetlands, coastal areas, and grasslands from being taken over for relatively low-value uses that are artificially encouraged by bad policies, imperfect markets, and flawed institutions; and
- Open up new production frontiers and make available new lands for settlements.
The attainment of these goals will in turn help the government by easing population pressures and environmental stresses in the NCR and other traditional urban centers, raising agroforestry- fishery and industrial output, generating employment, increasing the tax base, providing new town sites, reinforcing political control, and providing relocation sites for people displaced by long-term natural disasters like the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and typhoon Haiyan.
How do we start developing the East?
A monumental task needs a broad, united effort from all fronts; a strong partnership between the private and public sector, a national movement to denounce the metastasizing poverty brought forth by our current focus on pumping precious resources into overcrowded Metro Manila.
On the government’s end, there is a need for the passing of laws that support creation of new towns on, currently, government land. Laws should also be conducive for enhanced private, local and international, sector participation in financing, management, and ownership of the factors of production: land, labor, and capital.
Thus, our geographically inefficient government services system today will need to be transferred to one big compound so that business, as well as social services, will be much faster and more efficient. And since majority of our trading partners are facing the East, we also need to develop seaports, airports, railways, and related infrastructure to position our eastern cities as a viable trans-shipment and trading point for international cargo traffic – we will be the superhighway of future trade in the pacific.
Revitalizing Metro Manila is only possible if there is a viable transfer location for development. Developing the East will allow mega Metro Manila to be healed through urban renewal. It is Romy Roxas’ belief that if we do not do this today, our country’s economy will surely implode. Our development will be at a standstill. Exporting our labor, importing business processes, providing stop-gap solutions to the traffic, erecting taller structures and smaller abodes, can only carry us so far. If we continue on mis-prioritizing our policies and resources, it will surely lead us to a worse situation than where we are today, that is, more poverty, more unemployment, less local industries, more traffic, more dependence on foreign economies, and over-all, a path to national chaos and permanent destitution.
To which, his face grimly determined, billionaire Atty. Romeo G. Roxas has but a simple solution: DEVELOP THE EAST. It’s a tall order but the consequences of not doing so are overwhelming.