Cebu’s golden years and what’s coming  

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Changes are happening in Metro Cebu. Whether these changes are positive or negative depend on what sectors are affected by these ongoing and upcoming changes, and what the priorities of the government are.

As a Gen-Xer born in Cebu City and who lived here all my life, for me the golden years of Cebu were between 1988 to 1996. That was the height of ‘Ceboom’ where we even bagged the “8th Most Livable City in Asia” recognition from an international magazine.

We didn’t have much tall buildings then. We only had Cebu Plaza up in Nivel Hills and Metrobank Plaza in uptown considered as ‘skyscrapers’. But traffic was generally smooth, aided by well-paid and well-trained personnel from CITOM (City Traffic Operations Management) and traffic lights from the Australian firm AWA Traffic and Information System. It was easy to get around from point A to B.

By 9 p.m. the roads were semi-deserted except for those parts in the city pulsing with nightlife activity like Bai Disco in Cebu Plaza. During Saturdays, my high school classmates and I went to school to do our projects before heading off to the uptown area to eat Dimsum lunch at Robinson’s Fuente, play computer games, and then watch a movie at Belvic.

That our weekend cash allowances were able afford such pleasures just tells you of the relatively affordable cost of commodities and services in those days. Cebu was so low cost that once a Cebuano arrived in Manila, he would get sticker shock from the prices of even a decent meal in the national capital.

On semestral and summer breaks, I and my high school classmates went off to the beach resorts in Mactan. The beach was accessible and clean. By accessible I mean no exorbitant entrance fees and meals and services from resorts and establishments unlike what we have now owned by Filipino dummies of foreign entrepreneurs. Mactan was a local tourist haven, with near zero-crime and less traffic.

Those were the days, I know, that will never come back. Metro Cebu progressed remarkably that it became a victim of its own success. We were never short of visionary leaders but with Cebu being very much part of the Philippines, local leaders have been limited and bound by the political intramurals at the national level. Cebu only benefitted much from three supportive presidencies --that of Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. At least Noynoy Aquino’s PPP also gave Cebu world-class infrastructure.

In any case, we failed to plan for progress, so when growth and physical progress came, it strained basic services, choked our small metropolis, and left many ordinary people behind.

More physical progress will be coming soon with the impending transfer of the Central Command Headquarters from their large prime property in Apas-Lahug to a new camp in the north, possibly Tuburan. Reports state that the ownership of the multi-hectare property will now revert to the Province of Cebu. With that, the nearest military installation within reach of Cebu City in minutes would be the air force base in Mactan.

I’m sure large private real estate developers are drooling over the prospect of developing a piece of property and doing business in the soon-to-be-former military camp. It could become our own version of Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City in the national capital --clean, well-designed, and expensive.

It’s good that there is an assurance from Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia that occupants of the province-owned lots in Barangay Apas will not be left behind in the quest for development. “More revenues for the province so that I can translate this to more infrastructure and services for the Cebuanos without disposing of our hard-earned assets,” the governor said.

There are indeed win-win solutions that can be explored in order for growth to be more inclusive. We can start with the two basic elements in the formula that Singapore applied in attaining its world-class status today. These are education and housing. The superb end-result in Singapore is a population that can give the most efficient and responsive services as well as innovative ideas, and likewise families that have a decent roof over their heads in a city where they are very much part of the progress.

Quite sadly, ordinary people are slowly being displaced from gentrified areas in Metro Cebu today. Their second-rate education and lack of social mobility could not keep up with the influx of new and more privileged residents from within and outside the island.


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