Monday, February 7, 2011

The future is Clark

MANILA, Philippines – It feels good to be writing again. I’ve been away from this space for more than a year having played an active role in the last year’s elections, as any good citizen should.

Working in politics is a thankless job and in many levels, I’m glad I am back in the private sector. People working in government are fair game for criticisms, with or without basis.

The country has more than its fair share of critiques and their voices blare on tri-media and the internet. The negativity has a way of eating into the self esteem of the nation and I do not wish to add to it.

So as one privileged to have a voice through this corner, I chose to dwell on the positive. I will write about the triumphs, achievements and victories of government and the Filipino people.

Hopefully, in some small way, I can influence people to view their situation as a ‘glass half-full’, rather than a ‘glass-half empty’. To see opportunity in challenging situations and to inspire people to emulate those who excel, create, innovate and invent.

I searched for the best story to kick off my column. There are a lot of good things to write about, but what I really wanted was story that was BIG in every way shape and form!

I have been hearing a lot of good things about Clark its exponential export growth and how it provides jobs for 58,000 of our countrymen. But what I rally wanted to know was if Clark Freeport was really attracting the big ticket investors to make it the logistics and industrial powerhouse it was set-up to be. Was this the story I was looking for? I needed to see for myself.

I got myself an invitation to tour the Freeport complex. Apparently , the 4,400 hectare Freeport is jointly managed by the Clark International Airport Corporation (CAIC) who oversees all facets of the Freeport’s civil aviation operations, and the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) who manages matters relating to commerce and industry.

Victor Jose ‘Chichos’ Luciano, President of CAIC and the Diosdado Macapagal Internatonal Airport (DMIA) took me and my party to a tour of the facility including the airport itself, the epicenter of the Freeport.

I secretly feared that the remaining legacy of the Philippine-American Commonwealth would go the way of the Escolta district or Pasay City. It did not. The Freeport is impeccably maintained, down to the landscaped streets and police presence everywhere.

I was pleased to see a few big players in the DMIA complex. Singapore Airlines Engineering (Philippines) has established a facility to maintain aircrafts within the region, even as large as the Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A340. Expansion is afoot to accommodate even larger aircrafts like the Airbus A380. The Rolls Royce Company is also present to repair aircraft engines.

The DMIA is a small airport. It was once the air terminal used by U.S servicemen in the 80’s, now remodeled to be DMIA’s budget terminal. Its clean and efficiently run. No small feat considering it will be servicing a million passengers this year. (They serviced 650,000 passengers last year). The Clark airport is ISO certified and was even voted best budget airport in the region. Not bad for a refurbished facility!

To handle the traffic, an expansion of the existing passenger terminal has already been constructed and set to open by the summer. It’s another small but modern glass structure that gives the passengers a panoramic view of the runway. With the new facility in place, DMIA will be able to handle 2.5 million passengers a year.

Clark will continue to grow in importance as it is set to be the main gateway to the country. Talks are ongoing for the construction of a mammoth passenger terminal that can accommodate more than 20 million passengers a year. Although not official yet, word has it that Tonyboy Cojuangco’s new airline, Air Asia Philippines, is looking at the DMIA as its central hub.

But all of this is small news. I was looking for the big kahuna and yes, they have it! Kuwait based Peregrine Development International, a multi-billion investment firm that specializes in logistics, engineering and project management is developing what it calls the Global Gateway Logistics City (GGLC), a 177 hectare facility rising along the periphery of the DMIA.

The GGLC will have a Logistics Park, where aviation support activities and logistics centers will be located. It will also have a Business Park where aviation related headquarters will be zoned side by side with financial corporate offices.

Beside it will rise a Technology and Aero Park where research, development and training firms servicing the aviation industry will be located. It will also be the hub for health care and medical tourism with the second branch of the highly successful Medical City Hospital as its anchor.

When completed, Peregrine would have directly and indirectly pumped-in north of $5 Billion in new money and would have generated over a million jobs for our countrymen. It will generate billions in local revenues and export earnings. The CDC expects the logistics city to be fully operational within the decade.

The Clark Freeport Zone has a chance to be the nation’s model city a showcase of Philippine progress and a national cash-cow. It is on its way.. construction is ongoing! The future looks bright, and yes, it may just become the economic powerhouse it was envisioned to be.


NEHA JAIN                                                                                                                

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