Interview: Alfredo Marañon Jr

What potential does the formation of the Negros Island Region (NIR) unlock for the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental?

ALFREDO MARAÑON JR: As the country’s 18th and newest region, the NIR is poised to more aggressively harness the potential of both provinces across various sectors. First and foremost, rich soil, abundant water resources and stable weather conditions, compared with Luzon, enable opportunities for accelerating agricultural development in the NIR. Since Negros Occidental has increased self-sufficiency in staple crops like rice and corn, the province now focuses on encouraging diversification of agricultural production into high-value crops, primarily pineapple, cacao, coffee, banana, mango, poultry and livestock, which can generate higher incomes for farmers, particularly agrarian reform beneficiaries. With Negros Oriental also committed to organic farming, the NIR can also quickly establish itself as a major producer and supplier of healthy produce.

On the other hand, the southern part of the NIR holds potential for tourism, given its competitive diving destinations, resorts and attractive natural resources. However, while the year-on-year growth of tourism for Negros Occidental was 23% in 2015, this was largely driven by domestic tourists since the province has yet to establish a strong awareness with international travellers. Leisure facilities and infrastructure in our two connected provinces will thus need to be developed in the medium term together with more proactive tourism promotions. Furthermore, in support of its agricultural development thrust, the NIR aims to develop farm tours as a niche tourism segment, which would allow for the inclusion of farmers engaged in organic farming and generate alternative means of income.

Given that the NIR has sufficient and reliable power supply and a competitive workforce, the IT business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will continue to flourish, with Bacolod City ranked as the 85th best BPO destination in the world in the 2016 Tholons list, while Dumaguete City has inched up to the 93rd spot. Continuing workforce development by the two provinces will help to ensure the sector’s growth and the recognition of the NIR as a major player in the BPO industry.

What priorities need to be addressed to build synergies between the two provinces?

MARAÑON: First, closer collaboration through the Regional Development Council and other mandated coordinating bodies, and second, lobbying for the equitable share of resources. For example, the 2016 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for both Negros provinces is a little over P6bn ($126.9m), while the anticipated 2017 budget for the NIR is around P20bn ($423.1m). Among the plans in the pipeline for the DPWH is the interconnection of both provinces with more concrete roads.

This project will significantly shorten travel time within the two provinces. Aside from public works, the establishment of the NIR will also increase funding for education and agriculture. In the past, the two provinces would get a proportionately smaller share of national resources. With the creation of the NIR, the two provinces can focus on securing and equitably sharing more resources.

How can local government units encourage investments and projects that will strengthen the development of a green economy?

MARAÑON: The Provincial Investment and Incentive Code has already set the tone. Now Negros Occidental is not only known as the top organic farming province in the country, but it has also become the leader in the renewable energy sector, with solar generation capacity at 342 MW, spurred by evolving technology, lower costs and available land. Apart from solar, investors have exploited the biomass potential of the sugarcane industry by capitalising on the available feedstock for both power co-generation and bio-ethanol fuel.