Interview: Hermilando Mandanas

What investment priorities do you believe will be the greatest drivers of growth for the province?

HERMILANDO MANDANAS: Investment priorities will be those focused on our people, who remain the province’s number one resource. To nurture human capital resources a major emphasis needs to be placed on education, health and the provision of livelihood projects. This social safety net is instituted by local government units in the form of education assistance and scholarships, the establishment of health care facilities and the delivery of free quality medical services.

In addition, we need to ensure reliable internet connection and increase existing bandwidth. The local government can work with existing telecoms companies or invite additional investment or non-traditional communication mediums to bridge the digital divide in both urban and rural areas. The province currently hosts roughly 80% of all subsea cable landing stations for the country’s telecoms firms, having cemented its position as the country’s main gateway for internet connectivity. This can be further strengthened by developing nodes within the province to expand broadband instead of it being sent to Manila first. Furthermore, the province has one of the highest numbers per capita of families with overseas Filipino workers, so it is also crucial to have constant communication, especially with free voice services internationally.

Ongoing emphasis on human resource development and increased connectivity places the province in an advantageous spot to attract business process outsourcing (BPO) investments. Batangas currently has 20,000 BPO workers – a number increasing rapidly as locators aim to capitalise on the province’s distinct advantages, including the high enrollment of tertiary students and well-established connectivity in cities like Lipa, Santo Tomas and Batangas City. To strengthen this position, the province’s largest university, currently hosting 45,000 students, will set up a technology centre to incentivise ICT literacy and build up competencies that will be demanded by the BPO industry. In addition, all public schools and government officials will be provided with equipment to facilitate internet connectivity, which will help build ICT competencies early on.

How is infrastructure playing a role in unlocking the potential of the province?

MANDANAS: Batangas boasts a major international port, second only in terms of performance and strategic location to the Port of Manila. After development of phase I and II – an expansion that will allow for more passengers and cargo handling – we aim to pursue phase III and IV, given the higher impetus for development of the region and to ease the ongoing saturation that Manila has been experiencing.

The overall direction of the government is towards local autonomy. The expansion of the Batangas Port, along with other connectivity infrastructure projects including the expansion of the Fernando Air Base in Lipa City and the construction of a railway system from Batangas City to Calamba City, can be undertaken by the province to accelerate development. In addition, the expansion of our port will create a major gateway for southern provinces in Luzon and provide an alternative to divert cargo from the congested Port of Manila. These types of infrastructure would greatly relieve traffic within the metropolis and decrease the container traffic between the province and Manila.

In terms of power, solid infrastructure enables Batangas to maintain its position as the power base of the Philippines. The dominant energy source is natural gas, but the province has also seen high growth in coal-fired power generation. Moving forward, however, we will discourage coal plants in favour of increased renewable energy capacity, with the province already constructing solar and geothermal plants. The province is also a major provider of gasoline and diesel, in addition to the existence of a number of depots from oil players, all of whom favour Batangas due to its strategic bay location.