Article Written by: Ra Solomon
Illustrated by: Samantha Patricio
As Metro Manila has been branded as a city synonymous with congestion, a new location to deconfine the region is eyed. Given this, as part of Duterte’s Build Build Build (BBB) program, the development of the New Clark City (NCC) is envisioned to decongest the Philippine’s capital and become the pillar of economic growth in Luzon.
NCC is a part of the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) which spans across the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. Situated in proximity to major highways such as North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), Clark provides a good alternative for the crowded Metro Manila area.
Together with the highway and national airports, a proposed 53.1-kilometer Malolos-Clark railway system would reduce the travel time from Blumentritt, Manila to Clark International Airport in less than an hour when finished in 2022, opening more economic opportunities for Clark. With a dominant portion of the workforce in the Metro composed of workers from Central Luzon, further development of Clark would also help in creating new jobs and attract new business ventures as finding employees to fill in job vacancies wouldn’t be a problem for companies.
CSEZ is divided into four districts. The Clark Freeport zone is a 26 000-hectare land in the cities of Angeles and Mabalacat in Pampanga which is one of the region’s commercial districts with it being home to malls, shops, and manufacturing companies. According to a report by Clark Development Corporation, Clark Freeport Zone’s export revenue reached $6.14 billion in 2018. The Clark International Airport, located in the freeport zone, is a 2367-hectare civil aviation complex with a 3200-meter runway which hosts around 600 flights a week. On the other hand, also located in the freeport is the Clark Global City which is targeted to be the central business district and become a home to high-rise office buildings, retail outlets, urban parks, casinos, and academic centers. Lastly, the New Clark City, a 9450-hectare area in Tarlac is envisioned to be the next great metropolis in the country.
New Clark City is a PHP 607-billion development project located within the CSEZ and spans 9450 hectares in Capas and Bamban, Tarlac. NCC’s development is under the management of Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), which signed a 50-year contract with Filinvest to develop the allocated 288 hectares of land allocated for the project.
Last March 2015, the Philippine Congress approved House Resolution 116 which supports the then known Clark Green City, which is now the NCC. In April 2016, the groundbreaking rites for New Clark City was led by then-President Benigno Aquinno III, which became one of the premier projects under the Duterte Administration’s BBB program.
BCDA managed to partner with foreign firms to develop NCC. Al Ahli Holding Group of the United Arab Emirates is involved with planning tourism-related projects in the area while Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp plans to connect the NCC to Manila and surrounding cities by rail. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute then will aid the BCDA in establishing the smart and disaster-resilient features of the NCC. BCDA also partnered with the University of the Philippines (UP) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) to make sure the city’s master plan would be inclusive and sustainable.
As NCC is envisioned to be the next smart, green, sustainable, and disaster resilient metro, its location is ideal as the area of development is not flood prone with its lowest elevation being 54 meters above sea level compared to the highest elevation within Metro Manila in Bonifacio Global City at just 40 meters above sea level. Consequently, the Zambales mountain range is located on the west of NCC, while the Sierra Madre mountain range is located on the east, providing the area a geographical natural protection from typhoons. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) also noted that the area is relatively less prone to earthquakes. As Manila is vulnerable to earthquakes due to the massive valley fault traversing through the Metro, the NCC does not have any fault lines close to it.
Almost 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, and imminent threats of earthquakes and flash floods also loom. Natural disasters impede economic growth and brings grave socio-economic consequences. A study from the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) mentioned that the loss of productive assets, income, and livelihoods from natural calamities have long-term economic and social consequences. Experts reveal that direct costs coming from natural disasters lower the annual gross domestic product of the Philippines by 0.8%. ADBI added that disaster events can cause implications for income inequality and persistence of poverty. Given this, a well planned disaster prone city like NCC would be a good starting point towards modeling a calamity resilient Philippines.
The NCC will be further divided into five districts based on function: Government District, which would be accommodating national and Region III’s government offices, the Business District which would cater to residential areas, BPOs, offices and manufacturing, the Institutional District which is envisioned as a university town which would provide national and international academic institutions offering high-level and specialized courses, the Agri-Forestry Research and Development District which would focus on supporting Region III’s agricultural production and industry, and the Wellness and Eco-tourism District which is aimed to be an avenue for health practices, recreation, tourist facilities, and retirement villages.
Phase 1 of the NCC is reported to be 80% done, which is way ahead of its October 15 deadline while Phase 1A is set to be finished in time for the country’s hosting for this year’s Southeast Asian Games, which is set to be held in Pampanga. The first phase of the NCC project includes the construction of sports facilities to be used for athletics and hosting aquatic events. On the other hand, Phase 1A of the NCC National Government Administrative center includes a 20-thousand seater athletics stadium and an aquatics center which can seat around 2000 people.
Developments in Clark are of great benefit, as it led Central Luzon’s GDP to grow to 9.3 % in 2017 compared to the 6.7 % national GDP in the same year. Upon completion, the NCC is expected to house an estimated 1.12 million residents, provide around 800 thousand job openings, and contribute a gross output of approximately PHP 1.57 trillion per year to the national economy.
With the rapid urbanization happening in the NCC area, a big issue looms as tens of thousands of Aetas and other IP communities will be greatly affected because of displacement from their lands. After centuries of defending their lands, the Aetas are to be affected once more by development aggression.
15,000 local farmers and 20,000 Aeta and Abelling from around 26 indigenous communities are likely to be affected and displaced by the development. The worry is that the development in NCC is too business-centric, and the disregard of its own indigenous people who cultivated the land for generations due to land grabbing.
However, BCDA argues that Aeta families are not displaced as there are no declared ancestral domains or Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT) in the NCC. According to RA 8371 the CADT is a title formally recognizing the rights of possession and ownership of IPs over their ancestral domains. But, it is worthy to note that obtaining one is arduous and too expensive for the Aetas.
An interview from Inquirer highlighted that the Aeta Hungey applied for a CADT thrice in 1999, 2014, and last May for 18 000 hectares of ancestral land in Capas, Tarlac. However, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) refused to acknowledge the tribe’s 1999 application for a CADT, meaning that the NCIP had claimed they had no knowledge of a pending CADT application when NCC was launched in 2013. Consequently, the article also stated that the Hungey, having a receiving copy of the 1999 document in possession, filed a complaint against NCIP officials to demand the location of their first CADT application, to no avail.
BCDA then maintains that they are in touch with regular dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the other communities, giving them assurance that they are a part of the development. Only 3500 of the 9450 hectares are buildable according to the BCDA. This means that almost 6000 hectares will be available for upland farming and forest reserves. The BCDA clarifies that less than 40 percent will only be developed.
Also, financial assistance packages of around PHP 300 000 per hectare, the highest compensation package provided by the government to project-affected people according to BCDA, have been offered to the IPs and farmers affected by the project. In addition, BCDA mentioned that relocation sites have also been provided within NCC for residents affected.
Development for everyone
Truly, the vision for the 9450-hectare New Clark City is beyond remarkable. When finished, the NCC will be the Philippines’ first disaster-resilient, smart, and sustainable city. From residential areas, athletic centers, educational institutions, business districts, and government centers, the NCC will be the epitome of Philippine urbanization.
Given its possible socio-economic benefits, the development of the NCC if done right would boost the Philippine economy. However, it is worthy to take note that there are indigenous people that are greatly affected, and should not be forgotten once more and must become the immediate benefactors for the development as they have been tilling the area for generations. Everyone should be included in the development, and the urbanization shall build new avenues of opportunities and connectivity for everyone, especially the residents, IPs, and farmers in the area. Also, the government must keep in mind saving the environment, as aggressive deforestation for urbanization would null any “climate-change resilient” dream they have for NCC.
Development is not development if not all are included and when the marginalized are continued to be ignored. Development can only be true to its nature when it is felt by everyone, and not just by the elite few. Only when every Filipino experiences the benefits of a better economy can we say that the Philippine economy is truly in the upsurge.