I first heard the term “Singaphines” when I visited Singapore for an automobile related event. After the program, our host took us out for a short tour of a couple of malls and venues, and I noticed that practically 80 percent of the outlets featured an employee or staff from the Philippines. It was so prevalent, I was told, that people referred to the phenomenon as the evolution of “Singaphines.”

There is no denying that the success and breakthrough leadership of Singaporeans have set the benchmark on excellence in many fields, resulting in massive job generation that has attracted Pinoys. Recently, there has been a number of news features on the Changi Airport and the people behind the management group because they have become the go to experts in the field. Yes, they are the envy of the industry but that does not mean that the Philippines can’t aspire and live up to such a standard, both for a world-class airport and an urban development model.

We may actually see such a thing in our lifetime once San Miguel Corporation sets out to build what they call an “Aero City” in the province of Bulacan. Just yesterday, I received an email that referred to the vision that SMC president & CEO Ramon Ang has been slowly building up in the last so many years. SMC has reportedly released a conceptual master plan envisioned as a “pace setter” and model for green urbanism. The Aero City will be the urban development that will complement and support the P740-billion New Manila International Airport (NMIA) project.

Just before the COVID lockdowns, I had a chance to talk with RSA and I remember him talking about the next ideas after the NMIA gets rolled out, given how an international airport cannot be a stand-alone entity because of the needed logistics, infrastructure, housing, health facilities, schools and complimentary businesses expected to rise up in and around the massive NMIA.

It was also during that time that a couple of foreign-based urban planners, environmentalists and experts shared their opinion that Metro Manila as we know it, then and now, is no longer a sustainable city. One radical article even claimed that Metro Manila was a “Dying Metropolis.” During the COVID lockdowns, many of us also discovered that it was far better to spend lockdowns or simpler lives in suburban areas, thus giving rise to new real estate developments in Bulacan, Pampanga, Laguna, Batangas etc.

Given the fact that a real international airport provides investors a guaranteed or captured market, there is no lack of interest in setting up shop at the NMIA. Ang said that SMC is fully committed to completing the massive project, which it will fully fund with no guarantees or subsidies from government. Once that happens, chances are the younger and more mobile generation will without a doubt be migrating to the SMC Aero City for jobs or to start new businesses.

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In a recent announcement, RSA underscored that “the Aero City development addresses many of the problems experienced in Metro Manila today. It is designed, and will be built, with sustainability in mind. It will be properly zoned, with areas dedicated to agriculture and food production, logistics, health and wellness, aeronautics, finance, science and technology, commerce, residences, education, tourism, entertainment, recreation and government, among others. It will utilize renewable energy, and will accommodate both traditional and alternative modes of transportation, as well as promote active and healthier lifestyles,” he added.

“The airport city design will adopt green architectural and green urbanism guidelines over and above the country’s building and zoning codes, and follow structural codes of other countries similarly situated in earthquake zones like the Philippines. It will also feature easily accessible public transport systems, including mass transit systems, bicycle highways, as well as a waterfront area with landscaped walkways and promenades.”

They say it is better to build from the ground up than to renovate or rehabilitate and that is clearly the case for the future Aero City. There are many successful business models such as Changi in Singapore, Haneda in Japan, Schipol in the Netherlands, all surrounded by properly designed and planned urban development. In order to do this, SMC tapped the country’s top urban planner and green architect, Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr., to masterplan the airport-driven city concept.

According to RSA, “the designs, prepared by top architecture firm Palafox Associates, reflect the vision of a modern Philippine city that provides built-in solutions to various socio-economic, environmental and climate issues, and correct the mistakes seen in many urban developments of Metro Manila. These designs presented to us by Arch. Palafox and his team will be close to actual. There will probably be some adjustments by the time we implement, and we will still continue to improve as needed, but in terms of the overall concept, design and the features, this is it.”

The SMC president and chief executive officer added that “while we need to fast-track the completion of this airport and Aero City to help ease travel congestion and aid in the country’s recovery with more jobs and opportunities for more Filipinos, we are mindful that we need to do this the right way and with a vision for a sustainable future. That is why we tapped Architect Palafox for this project.”

The NMIA and the SMC Aero City will take a few years to build but this early, a number of people have already expressed interest in setting up retail outlets at the NMIA, while others have asked about leasing or business development opportunities in the Aero City. These individuals are current business owners at airports around the country as well as investors who see the high potential of the next new big thing in the business sector. Perhaps the NMIA and SMC Aero City will help bring the best and the brightest Filipinos back to the Philippines!

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