A goose city that serves Samal Island

By Cha Monforte
A goose city that serves Samal Island
Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario might just have a far-reaching vision- the Samal Bridge too far. OK, it been long officially justified that the bridge can spur massive development to the island.
“But it’s not free, how much is its toll fee?” asked Vice Mayor Al David Uy, who’s family is long friends of Ronald Bangayan, owner of Mae Wess ferries. It might cost more than the P10 ferry ride at present.
The vice mayor categorically said he is in favor of the bridge, but he just have a lot of questions. Another one is, will authorities first develop infrastructures inside the island before the bridge, or put up the bridge first before the infras? “It’s like a chicken and egg question.” 
That’s only for the future, folks. Meantime, IGACOS Councilor Alberto Ortiz enjoys riding a ferry or short sea trip as the island is so near to Davao City in the first place.
He fears about the influx of squatters, settlers once the bridge is there. And come to think on how to dispose their additional wastes, and provide land to accommodate them. 
A community organizer Jojo Tejano charges that the the IGACOS city government has been ejecting people from island’s coastlines through the years using the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) as a legal cover.
He claimed that Samal shorelines have been cornered by the rich and developers leaving no public beach for the islanders to swim on freely. 
But the city government has been penalizing beach resort owners for their over-water structures to implement its position for an open access to shorelines and foreshore areas.
Really, there’s no such thing a free lunch. There should that toll fee for every passage of person or vehicle in the bridge. Constructing the Samal Bridge costs a lot- P6 billion, which could be instead use to solve the problem of lack of classrooms in typhoon-ravaged provinces.
But then, there’s only heavy traffic of people going to the island during the weekends, and what to do with the bridge during the rest of the days? Is the bridge really that feasible with that traffic?  
Samal Island for this present epoch – while on the road to recovery from typhoon Pablo- can be left to its being just an island. The bridge is just not necessary. It’s an island so interconnected to the workings of Davao metropolis. And here’s the goose. 
The goose metropolis, Davao City that is, has been there serving well the island. It’s been laying the golden eggs for Samal. If foreign tourists have been visiting in greater number to the island in the recent years, it’s because Davao City’s tourist operations center has been including the nearest Samal Island as a lush beach and eco-tourism destination.
If the island has been massively trekked on now by people mostly from Davao City especially during weekends, it’s simply because it has the nearest and still unpolluted beach resorts, and by now it has already many swimming facilities- pools and the sea with breakwater- to choose from.
It’s not only coins for videoke but also dollars converted to pesos that have been left in the island each time outsiders and people from Davao City and nearby provinces go there.      
So there, Samal Island has been looked up as a part of the city than a part of a province. Proximity often defines the interconnectedness of one urban place to another. The magnetic pole of a larger city is boosted by how far it serves the market and populace of its neighbors. 
Because Davao City is a metropolitan city and it has all the products and services that people need, naturally it benefits more from the patronage of its neighbors. Samal’s market is ever dependent on the goose city of Davao, that’s just a 15-minute lantsa or ferry ride from its unpolluted beaches. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)

The placemaker and the Davao City Square



By Cha Monforte

The placemaker and the Davao City Square

In many cities in US and Europe, more people are advocating for transformation of their places. The high development of advanced economies in the world has resulted to cities being so  oriented to automobiles, skyscrapers and malls that soon neglected the importance of plazas, squares and other public spaces.

A movement called placemaking is reclaiming public spaces as spaces where people have to enjoy, converge, socialize, walk and bike. The robust urbanizations caused by top-down policies and the vertical growth of cities in advanced economies have led to mindless impersonal relations between persons and traffic gridlocks. Sadly, the making of our own cities are going to that direction.

The placemaking movement wants to foster cultural identities and build stronger communities. Placemakers call for community-driven urban designing process that “would free a city from the homogenizing effect of plans imposed from above, allowing it to grow organically, place by place, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.” They want squares and public spaces to scatter and grow like they want Paris not to become a homogeneous global city that erodes its local character.

Placemakers want to shift the paradigm and trend of urban planning, transportation, their policies, systems and priorities. Placemaking is a way to create sustainable cities and preserve the environment especially in this age of climate change. They want people to stroll in the streets, walkways, enjoy sidewalk dry markets, sit in benches viewing rivers and scenes in the city. Or walk or bike around and get the full health benefits of doing it. The plaza is the place that brings people together. There’s a need to have sense of space in planning, rekindle cultural identity, the need to reshape the urban environment, they say. They form pedestrian and bicycle alliances. They call to rightsize downtown streets. And placemakers resist government projects and policies that create barriers to biking, walking and placemaking.

I see that the placemaking movement fears that built urban environment might be so redesigned into so modern environment that it forgets to provide public spaces for people to traditionally converge and talk to each other. Placemakers advocate to make cities become more walkable, bikable and livable. It is becoming a powerful new social movement that reaches Latin American and African countries. It is still be to be heard loud and clear in Asian countries.

Applied in Davao City, placemaking can be given a biggest push if a large square is carved out in its old  downtown. Over fifteen years ago I postulated a possibility of carving out a Davao City Square enclosing around the streets of Quirino, Magallanes, Claveria and that road by the Gaisano Mall. In my postulation, the PUJs are barred from entering the square. Only private vehicles and taxis are allowed to enter. Pedestrians would have to walk, bike or take light tramcars to go to places inside the square. Or allow limited aesthetically designed trisikads or tartanillas to ply inside the square. In the scheme, the PUJ-caused traffic is eliminated within the square. It automatically frees and unclogs the city’s oldest central business district of the hundreds of thousands of noisy and air-polluting PUJs, and gives space for a special urban renewal.

Authorities then would further move in for aesthetic, public space- and environment-oriented physical facelifts of available public spaces. Consider the scenario of Davao City Square having a lot of trees growing, more benches, tiled pocket parks to compliment the People’s Park and the park fronting the City Hall, more covered walkways, more spaces for walk and bike lanes. Heritage buildings will rise up to compliment with private towers and condos. It relates with the coastal light train transit thought out before, and possibly with an underground train in so distant future. The northbound and southbound rotundas and dropping points of PUJs will be established, and more concepts to buttress the Davao City Square.

Revolutionary? How’s this now? For Davao City to join with the sustainable global cities it must have a square for walkability, bikability and unique urban renewal. Davao City has no square in the first place and it is contented only to provide a small People’s Park. Making a large walkable square is giving the city’s old heart a breathing space.

Mayor Rody Duterte can easily carve out the Davao City Square by mere mayor’s circular only – to start a tea party for his presidential draft, with environmentalists and placemakers. Then we can immediately enjoy cups of tea or bottles of beers under the many shades of first balled low growing trees in the freed sidewalks and pocket parks while first imagining a stunning view of the squared downtown in the city. The influential and powerful mayor can easily make a public space. He can be the placemaker in the country. The City Council’s ordinance can come in later.  (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews in Twitter)

Our state of transportation and the mighty China



By Cha Monforte

Our state of transportation and the mighty China

The moment other countries boasts how their grand transportation plans are we are struck to thinking how backward is ours. The Mindanao Railway Project is now forgotten and both legislative and actions for it stopped. We are reduced to waiting for who will champion for it- verbally. But as of now there’s no news about it.

Whatever is happening to our national highways is- compliments of the general appropriations act of Congress. Our public works department’s accomplishment is dependent to GAA budget. Our budgets for road infrastructure- the maintenance budget for the road’s wear and tear as well as for the opening and pavement of national roads- remain pegged to agency’s growth projection from the recent year. By that, nothing revolutionary can expected yearly. We simply got no money for a great floodwater diversion canal from the Compostela Valley’s mainland valley, or a long high seawall for Tacloban City for the next typhoon and storm surge. Our state of infrastructure is after all dependent on the state of our economy.

If ever China is getting bolder and boastful day by day it is because the country now has much money to spend for gargantuan projects. It’s China’s economy, stupid, and for becoming mucho dinero in the new globalized order it has become aggressive to squat and poach on our maritime territories. The great brain twist of Pinoy’s colonial mind long bombarded by American values is the learning that it’s not all America there is to dream of, but China to see and travel to. It is starting early in this decade that study trips of our officials have been made to see China and what’s happening there.

Before, we dream – when can we ever reach America? “God created the world and the rest is by China” is a superlative for China’s great economic standing in all things that it makes which the mushrooming shang-shang stores sell at low prices. News and images in social media and the net have opened Pinoys’ eyes that there are, too, highly industrial cities in China that started long time ago. Our eyes have been fixated to knowing and seeing the industrial complexes in the West that for a long time we seemed to imagine that there were only backwardness, totalitarianism, temples, Bruce Lee and flying kungfus in communist China.

Forget communism, “if not of Mao Tse-tung millions of Chinese might have died of hunger,” said a late Tsinoy neighbor who had hardware in a then rustic town in Compostela Valley. That was twenty years ago when he uttered that statement to me. I didn’t know why- when we heard 20-76 million of Chinese who died during China’s great famine and starvation attributed to natural disasters, lack of food production (due to policies like the farm collectivization), about 2.5 million of whom due to communist purges, in Mao’s initial reign.

I reckoned the Tsinoy’s timeline in coming to our country. He must have come before World War II as he bagged a Pinay in Toril, Davao City. She accompanied him when they retreated from Toril during the war and they settled to vend for survival in a Comval town. The Tsinoy must be one among the fearful millions who fled China after Mao won his revolution in 1949. But he was definitely one of the great millions of Chinese who revered Mao as a great leader. Was the Tsinoy’s statement a belief to Mao’s Great Leap Forward that first transformed China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one? Whatever, I knew he often listened to short-wave Chinese-speaking radio program at night. The frequency band was like a counterpart of the Voice of America in the 70s.

Anyway, back to transportation.  Wew, China is thinking out aloud again. It plans to build high-speed railway to US so people can travel back and forth China and the US including the countries of stopover without flying. Seems a ridiculous idea but “if Beijing gets its way that’s exactly what will be possible in the future,”  Beijing Times put it. That news comes following China’s industrialization after Mao, that is dramatic but nauseating as to envelop Bejing now of snowlike smog. China’s urbanization tempo has been fast but it goes awry when it created problem of ghost modern, Parisian buildings by sheer absence or lack of occupants.

China’s planned high-speed railway is really fast as it would run about double of the full-speeding Bachelor Bus through the undersea tunnel that is about a more than a little length of Davao City to Butuan City. But the vast country boasts already a high-speed rail network connecting its cities. Before, it takes nearly 24 hours for people travelling from Beijing to Guangzhou, with a distance of over 2,000 kms. Now the journey time is cut to just 8 hours by bullet train. If we could only have bullet train, travel time to Cagayan de Oro from Davao City via Buda is only about 2 to 3 hours compared to the 6 hours of fastest private vehicle travel.

“The China-US railway is just one of four ambitious projects the country is thinking about undertaking. One line would connect China to London with stops in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, while another would link the country to countries like Iran and Turkey. A fourth line, meanwhile, would stretch from China to Singapore, stopping in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia.” Wew, that would eventually connect to the Philippines.

We are thrilled to that prospect. But meantime, we are aghast at the thought that China has been lately making land reclamation on Mabini Reef following series of squatting and poaching acts to our maritime territories in the recent years. We can only pray to international court and be still strategically offensive to guard our West Philippine Sea as we have proximity advantage though our naval and air forces reel on limited equipment and fighting machines against a mighty China. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews in Twitter)

The fall of industrial giant, the story



By Cha Monforte

The fall of industrial giant, the story

There was a fall of industrial giant, the competitive description of Iligan City before. There was that fall as when the National Steel Corporation went bankrupt and shutdown operations in November 1999. So other industries supplying NSC and its downstream industries closed shop, too, like dominoes falling, on the first wave of disadvantageous trade liberalization in the early 2000s sending the city’s economy into turmoil.

The NSC, we recall, was once known as the largest steelmaking plant in Southeast Asia and the pride of Philippine industry. The NSC was resuscitated in 2004 with the entry of Malaysian investors but they shortly sold their controlling interests. A rich Indian family won the bid but they aggressively trampled the rights of our workers, who then staged wildcat strike against them. By 2010, NSC’s plant halted operations until these days. End of the story.

Why NSC collapsed? A former NSC employee has his simple view: NSC went bankrupt after the bar slab steels were eliminated in the production chain. He said it was caused by a national policy. NSC then was the receiver of Mindanao’s all steel scraps which it recycled to be good, non-substandard steels for domestic consumption. One product out of one policy. That was all he could recollect long years after he was laid out from work. He didn’t know about the nitty-gritty of steel markets and tariffs affecting NSC steel products- hot-rolled coils, hot-rolled plates, cold-rolled coils, and tinplates, etc.

It was in the late 1990s that the Asian financial crisis came and so the peso depreciated to unprecedented levels. “With many of NSC’s loans and supply of raw materials paid in dollars, the steel company just could not cope with servicing its debts,” said one memo explainer. “Trade liberalization and the cheap steel imports was also among the major factors that contributed to NSC’s demise. Competition was so stiff because of the dumping of cheap steel products from such countries as Russia and Korea,” labor unions said.

“In fact, NSC was not the only victim in the dumping of cheap imports to the country. The cement industry also raised a howl when imported cement from Taiwan, Indonesia and other countries flooded the market supposedly through illegal means, eating up a large percentage of the local manufacturers’ sales. The two cement plants in Iligan- the Iligan Cement Corp. and the Mindanao Portland Cement Corp., as well as the Alsons Cement Corp. in neighboring Lugait, Misamis Oriental, felt the blow,” labor unions recollected. A few other companies servicing the NSC, as well as smaller business firms in the downstream industry, were forced to close shop, too.

When NSC closed shop, the scrap iron business lost P1.4-billion and the Refractories Corp. of the Philippines lost 30% of its market. Mabuhay Vinyl Corp., supplier of NSC’s chemicals, was severely hit, and the National Power Corp. lost P720M in sales yearly, Philippine Star reported in May 2002.

But who were the actors then before the curtains fall in the great NSC show? NSC’s woes started with privatization. It was El President El Tabako who pushed for the NSC’s privatization for thinking out loud that the government “ain’t supposed to run a steel company, and that it’s better handled by the private sector – despite the fact that at that time, 1994, NSC belonged to the top ten corporations in the Philippines,” said a heckler in the net. That belonged to the Philippines 2000, tiger economy battlecries of El Tabako.

For wanting to limit the government’s financial exposure on State-owned corporations, so Malaysia’s Wing Tiek acquired controlling interests of NSC in November 1994 and shortly it retrenched more than 500 workers for the first time since NSC’s establishment in 1974. But being not steel maker, Wing Tiek sold its sold its entire 69.2% stake to Hottick in December 1996 while the government through the National Development Corp. optioned its own 12.5% stake to the latter on February 1997.

But the latter was of the same mold of the first buyer, a steel trader, not a steel maker. Hottick sold NSC again in 2004, and in the bidding the Global Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. owned by Mittal family, Indian nationals, won. So NSC, next called as Global Steel, resumed operations, after four years of closing shop while the NSC’s selling had been going on. But the resumption of operation took only five years as in February 2010 the Global Steel employees made a strike completely paralyzing the plant operations.

“The Indian company is flagrantly violating Philippine Labor and economic laws since it took over in year 2004 on the pretext of alleged liquidity problems and profitability issues by the abusive Indian investors in collaboration with the corrupt government officials,” the striking Global Steel workers charged. The once NSC never did recover- until now.

The DTI recently bared a draft of the road map for the iron and steel industry showing that by 2030 the country should be a globally competitive provider of quality steel products for domestic users. What road map to boost when it gives a far distant year for us to become competitive? We were once the No. 1 quality steel provider in Asia, and now we look for 2030 to recover? This is impossible as the curtain for 2015 Asean Integration is beginning to be raised! Just last year the country steel consumption reached six million metric tons, and about 50 percent of that was met by local production when in the past we took all.

The simple view of the former NSC employee is revealing that our national leaders profit from the status quo of allowing steel imports to supply 50 percent of our domestic steel requirements- to bloat their personal pockets. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)

The fall and rise of industrial giant Iligan City

By Cha Monforte
The fall and rise of industrial giant Iligan City 
Iligan City, the city most touted before as the country’s industrial giant with the National Steel Corporation’s shining presence, is obviously now living to be self-feeding to its development and urbanization. I went to the city for a short break recently and found it to have already more high, big buildings and malls. 
Fifteen years ago, it was only Gaisano Mall, east of the city’s central business district and by Tambacan coast at its rear, that claimed the title of having structural dominance among the rest. Rundown big buildings owned by city’s pioneer families and businesses are still on brisk lease business in the city’s main street, the Roxas Avenue, like what remains to be old buildings in Claveria and San Pedro streets in Davao City. 
Iligan City before particularly in the 80s and 90s was propped up by the now dead NSC. It was NSC and its downstream industries which fueled the city’s economy. The super company had over 4,000 workers working in three shifts. The NSC workers were considered as the elites in the city’s working class for having fat salaries. 
In my decade of monthly travels in city in the 90s, I did not hear about the orig NSC workers striking. What was there to strike at when even their gray company polos or NSC IDs were treated like credit cards when NSC’s night owls and drunkards had left nothing to spend for more during the wee hours at the height of drunkenness in city’s R & R joints, dancing halls, drinking bars and brothels.
Besides the NSC the city has still three cement factories, coco oil factories and other obnoxious manufacturing plants and ancillary industries operating in its northern corridor along the national highway. They rose up from threats of the first wave of disadvantageous trade liberalization and dumping of cheap steel and cement that came in the early 2000, though one said the corporate ownership structure had changed. The city’s Kiwalan area is still covered with snow of cement dusts. That’s still visible when the bus I was riding on passed by along the area peopled with informal settlers.  
The urban poor folks are still there, along the city’s highway, like in the Timoga soils where I had trodden on for many times to bridge negotiations between the urban poor occupants and the powerful Macaraig-Macapagal family. It’s almost two decades now when they faced a spectre of demolition and relocation, and they might just be lucky that their makeshift structures remain, as the mother of ex-PGMA, Dona Eva Macaraig and late ex-President Dadong Macapagal have obviously the heart. Or they don’t have no plan yet – and ever- to develop Dona Eva’s inherited land adjacent to the famous Timoga flowing pools from cool spring waters splurged from above ground, near Ma. Cristina Falls. The last agreement forged was for the urban poor settlers to be relocated to the other property of Dona Eva in nearby Barangay Buruun. 
The sprawling compound of the NSC is now almost a forest with high growing gmelina trees. An ex-NSC employee said to me that in 2000 the NSC went bankrupt after the bar slab steels were eliminated in the production chain. He said it was caused by a national policy. NSC then was the receiver of Mindanao’s all steel scraps which it recycled to be good, non-substandard steels for domestic consumption. 
After NSC’s collapse, he said in his raw recollection, few years after, NSC reopened under a new operator who was a “tihik nga insik”. The re-operation was short-lived. “Maybe Chinese steel businessmen are continuing to lobby to President PNoy Aquino that we are still importing substandard steels from China,” he said. That’s a simple recollection that’s etched in collective memory of the NSC workers.
Rightly, there was a fall of an industrial giant, that was Iligan City. NSC was the pride of the Philippine industry, being the largest steelmaking plant in Southeast Asia. But it’s another story to tell. Regardless of the fall, the city continues to be still an industrial in character more in its north than in its south where the rusting NSC plant is located. 
But Iligan City has urbanized greatly more than a decade after with the locating of new Gaisano Mall at its center, and more restos, dine ins, and medium bazaars along its old main streets. An ex-police chief has replaced the politicians of the old political clans and families in running the City Hall. He is Mayor Celso Regencia. At dusk in its known “traffic light” corner, an electronic billboard runs the mayor’s campaign, “Welcome to the City of Waterfalls.”  (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)