By Abe P. Belena
Prospects and Challenges
FIRST words on this column that takes its debut in the Capitol’s corner this week.
Counterpoint, its identifying title, defines what to expect from this corner, presentation of the other side of the coin on events, situations, issues and trends; critical analysis of conventional wisdom and out-of-the-box approaches to old problems. That is what Counterpoint will be all about.
Since this week is the beginning of the three-year terms of old and new political leaders, we have opted to discuss the prospects and challenges that face Pangasinan.
With its rich human and natural wealth, Pangasinan holds the distinct prospect of becoming the greatest province in the country in all aspects of human development. That means that the two million or so Pangasinenses must be the best fed, best clothed, best sheltered and best educated in the whole country. We are not yet halfway there.
In total land area, it is second only to Cebu Province, but Cebu is mostly unproductive mountains while Pangasinan is an agricultural and fish bowl.
And yet, Cebu has grown economically to contest Metro Manila as the country’s premier commercial and industrial hub. Its past political leaders had made it so, building an international airport and an international seaport as well as hosting a special export zone. They started those facilities as early as the mid-seventies. Those facilities have become the main engine of Metro-Cebu’s march to progress.
On that front, Pangasinan is three decades behind Cebu. Expanding the Lingayen Airport, making Sual a commercial seaport and building a special tourism and economic zone only started during the second term of Governor Espino. Governors of the past did not have the vision to lay down the strategic public infrastructure that would spark real economic development.
They were content that in past decades, the province was top supplier of vegetables to Metro-Manila, top producer of rice and top producer of aqua-cultured fish. That was before Nueva Vizcaya and Quezon discovered commercial vegetable farming and other provinces from Luzon to Roxas City discovered bangus culture.
Through benign neglect, Pangasinan has lost its edge in vegetable production and fish culture. It only reclaimed the distinction of being the third biggest producer of rice last year.
Not everything is lost though. We still have the land, the mountains, the rivers and the seas that if and when fully harnessed, could bring real progress to the province. And more importantly, we have a large pool of young, able-bodied and amply educated Pangasinenses. The best and the brightest though are working abroad as overseas workers.
Another plus is the fact that we have two big power plants that produce cheap electricity. In coming years, investors, particularly foreigners, will give preference to places with cheap and reliable source of electric power as investment sites. Again for lack of vision, Luzon is headed to a new power crisis. The brownouts are here.
Investments to a place don’t come accidentally. This, former Cebu Governor Lito Osmena and former Olongapo Mayor Dick Gordon learned long time ago. Osmena started an investment promotions program for his province. Gordon did a similar thing almost singlehandedly for the abandoned Subic Naval Base. Both succeeded.
In the business community where this writer spent much of his career, they have a rule of thumb.
Investments in new industries are the key to sustained economic growth. And don’t expect outsiders to bet on your place.
It’s high time Pangasinenses start betting on their own province. The role of government is to find out and show them where to invest, what ventures to enter, where to get their raw materials and other basic information.
This country does not have a national investment promotions program nor an industrialization strategy. That was one of the key reasons, perhaps the biggest reason, why we have lost out to Vietnam and Indonesia in the SEA race to progress.