While reading some news Online, I came across a name that sounded familiar. He was my former dorm mate in college. I knew him as a brilliant but humble guy. For some reason, I associated him with the red leather-covered couch in the lobby of our old dormitory. Was it burgundy and faux? It could be his favorite place to study or relax late at night–when I would negotiate with our loud security woman to let me go out for a bottle of gin. He deserves where he is now. This post is about land use and conversion. The guy in the news works for the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), a government-run corporation. Sorry, I can’t mention his name; I might be accused of name-dropping.
To be honest, I have no idea if there are still idle lands available for development inside the former U.S. military bases. I also don’t know if the government has already a policy in place regarding the uses of those lands. Are they for rent or for sale? Are those lands already rented or sold? I don’t know. So allow me to assume in this post and use some numbers from the 2008 paper of Prof. Roland Simbulan of the University of the Philippines. The following lands were available for conversion and development in 1992 when the base conversion law (RA 7227) took effect:
1) Clark Air Base – 4,400 hectares
2) Subic Naval Base – 6,658 hectares
3) San Miguel Communication Station – 1,100 hectares
4) O’Donnel Transmitter Station – 1,755 hectares
5) Capas Naval Transmitter Station – 356 hectares
6) John Hay Air Station – 227 hectares
7) Wallance Air Station – 202 hectares
Land Total – 14,698 hectares
At first glance, I can sense the commercial value of Clark and Subic. It’s appropriate that they are economic zones now. In my future post, I’ll share my ideas on how these economic zones can be turned into industrial capitals–like the Silicon Valley of America (California) or the Silicon Plateau of India (Bangalore)–necessary in turning the Philippines into a knowledge society that heavily relies on information, science, engineering, technology, and design. For this post, let me focus on the three smaller bases and on how to maximize their uses with job creation as my target goal.
I’ll say this again: the Philippine government should make employing jobless Filipinos as a matter of public policy–that means all government programs, projects, investments, spending, laws, policies, departments, agencies should give job creation a priority. In developing the former military bases, for example, the first question that should be asked is whether such project can create a significant number of jobs. Lawmakers should ask themselves too if their bills can create jobs. All government spending should create jobs. If we won’t control this unemployment problem early on, it will be the economic downfall of the Philippines in the very near future.
The unemployment rate of 7.5% last quarter should really alarm our president. The number of jobless Filipinos is increasing, and that’s the trend. It will continue to increase when the typhoon season comes or if the volatile situation in the Middle East worsens. Yes, the significant job loss in the agricultural industry has surprised me. Maybe the regions hit by typhoon Pablo are still recovering, and the farmers cannot go to work as of yet because the farms are still not operational. Maybe a lot of farmers are now jobless because the farms that employed them before are either closed or abandoned.
Our family farm hasn’t been operational since the typhoon damaged most of the coconut trees. I’m not sure what our workers are doing now. I don’t think there are other jobs waiting for them. I have encouraged them to go into commercial fishing since the Pacific Ocean is just nearby. I already sent them money for the construction of their big boats. I hope the government is awake and listening. The job losses in the agricultural industry last quarter should give President Aquino a push to start developing a sustainable agricultural industry that can withstand natural calamities or that is far from the typhoon areas.
It seems to me that the flow of investment in agriculture is the lowest. The growth rate in that sector last quarter was only 0.8% from 0.4% the previous quarter. I find this disheartening. Less growth rate means less new jobs, and we have 624,000 unemployed agricultural workers. Since Filipino investors are keeping away their money from the sector that mostly employs the poor, the government has to find a meaningful solution to the low growth rate and to the significant job loss in the agricultural industry. As usual, I have a suggestion. Why don’t the government create agriculture-based corporations?
Let’s begin with tea. Lands that are cool, moist, elevated or those near the water that can moderate heat and create humidity are the better areas for planting tea. Since I have no geological data to present here, I’ll just compare countries. Sri Lanka, one of the leading exporters of tea, and the Philippines share the same plant hardiness zone–an indicator of a plant’s ability to survive based on its minimum survival temperature. If tea plants can survive in Sri Lanka, it can also in the Philippines. The former, like the islands in our country, is also surrounded by water.
I’ll leave it to the government agriculturists and geologists to determine if the annual rainfall, soil acidity, moisture, and humidity in these areas–Capas, Baguio City (John Hay), and San Fernando (Wallance)–are suitable for tea plantations. I believe they are, and I think we should develop those former bases into agricultural, manufacturing, and hospitality centers. Filipino experts should also study if rows and rows of tea plants can withstand storms and typhoons or even control erosion and flooding. I know it takes four to six years for new tea plantations to be fully operational, but at least we are doing something in the present and for the future. Besides, to start tea plantations, farmers, scientists, agriculturists, geologists, landscape planners, civil engineers, sustainability consultants, and tea experts are immediately needed, and that’s instant job creation almost.
Tea of a high quality is in demand. Let’s target the rich tea-consuming ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Since we don’t have enough tracts of land for tea, we should only plant the best varieties for high-end consumption and the most in demand among the expensive ones–making the expensive affordable is a good global marketing strategy we can adopt in the future. We need to put the scientists of UP Los Banos to work. I believe in their abilities and ingenuities. A tea laboratory can also employ UP’s brightest. Our best food technologists and even internationally-trained chefs can help in product research and manufacturing. We don’t have to export most of our raw materials. We should process some into marketable products.
There’s a culinary demand for green tea powder and flavor extract. We can make tea juices and energy drinks. There are even tea-flavored candies and cookies now. Placing the agricultural industry beside the manufacturing industry in one area is a very good idea. Transportation cost will go down. Tea farmers can interact with food manufacturers. It’s time to professionalize agricultural jobs. Filipino farm workers who are mostly poor, I believe, should have “eight-to-five” jobs. They should have sources of income that are reliable. Seasonal sharecropping can be exploitative and susceptible to labor and agrarian politics.
Also, a tea plantation in Camp John Hay of Baguio City can be an additional landscape in the already beautiful green city. Having another attraction is not bad. Tea plantations all over the world attract tourists and visitors. The Charleston Tea Plantation of South Carolina has guided group tours, special tasting events, and even a festival. Private events–such as corporate meetings, family outings, and weddings–are held in the plantation. There are also hotels nearby, and the plantation even has a gift shop. Tea can also generate hospitality jobs.
I urge the guy working for BCDA to study my proposal. I believe any piece of land but the residential should have multiple sustainable uses to maximize benefits and yes, job creation. Again, that’s my example of a web of solutions to a problem. It saddens me though to think of the time and the opportunities we have wasted and lost. We’ve already had a bunch of overpaid executives since 1992 when the base conversion law took effect, but they could only think of selling or renting out idle lands owned by the government. If you sell a government land to a property developer, it does not generate permanent jobs. Yes, construction workers are able to work, but when they are done they’re gone. Maybe the developer will hire a couple of gardeners to maintain the landscape of his subdivision, but that’s it.
Also, if investors don’t want to develop our agricultural industry, it is the job of the government to do it. We have a lot of government-owned corporations; we should check if they’ve created many jobs. Performance audits, not only in profit growth but also in job growth, should be done often. If their job creation records are dismal, the government should force them to diversify and invest in agriculture. Are there government-owned and controlled agricultural corporations that employ many people? I’m not sure. If there are none, I say: change the course and solve our unemployment problem by developing the agricultural industry. Create a network of agricultural, manufacturing, and hospitality enterprises in one area and do the same in several places. Hit three birds with one stone and repeat the same strategy multiple times, and that is efficiency, Mr. President.