Clark Freeport Zone: The Future Megalopolis
As the last rusty and twisted steel truss of the old PASUDECO(Pampanga Sugar Development Company) was loaded into a giant flatbed truck about a year back, the City of San Fernando was too engrossed with its many affairs to mark the significance of that event. That the sugar economy is gone for good, an unheralded passing of an era. With the wreck of the old sugar mill cleared, a giant developer, without meaning to, has supplanted the old sugar economy with his ambitious glass, concrete and steel structures that would serve the purposes of the new century: retail, housing, hospitality, and entertainment.
The clearing of Pasudeco’s wreck and the construction of the development called Capitol Township was not even an act of repurposing. It was erasing the last, important vestige of the sugar economy, which for about a century—from the time the intrepid Basques raised sugar growing to industrial scales through the full five decades of the 20th century—reigned supreme. Even the lame effort of the development to cloak itself with history and tradition,
that memory and modernity have been fused into the development, has failed to gain real traction.
The ancient journalists who have covered the affairs of Pampanga from the old times, and have somewhat struggled to transition into the new digital world, failed to write the proper obits for the PASUDECO gone for good.
“The old buoys and the old markers of our lives have been cleared for good. And the tragedy is this – Pampanga is too busy to take notice of an era’s passing,” said Bert Basa, a photojournalist, whose grainy photos of the old Pampanga still capture the full power and glory-including the tensions – of the old sugar economy. The trite phrase, that an entire era is coming to an end, is an apt description of sugar’s decline in what was once Pampanga’s love affair with the sugar industry, added Basa.
Past the old township whose anchor structure was the PASUDECO, the agrarian sprawl with a cruel feudal subtext – rows upon rows of sugar cane fields along the main connecting road to Angeles City – have likewise vanished, totally and with zero detritus.
The barrios named after the sugar economy, like Quebiawan, (which root word is cabio or the sugar milling season) have zero memory of the bagons (the sugar carriers that ran on the regular rail tracks) and the 6 x 6 trucks fitted to take on the roughest hacienda roads to haul newly-cut sugar cane into the mill. What these barrios host are now fast-food franchises, car dealerships, gasoline stations, 7-11s, hospitals and universities. The barrios built on the sugar economy have completely forgotten their roots.
And, of course, the giant boxy malls, the all too-permanent and the all-too-ubiquitous landmarks of Philippine urban areas in the new century.
And, of course, the residential subdivisions, the tell-tale signs of the vibrant suburbia which much of the City of San Fernando has become. Built on what used to be interminable stretches of “sakulan” the Kapampangan term for
sugar cane fields.
All of these epic changes and transitions lead us to this question: Is this brisk transformation, a City of San Fernando phenomenon? Is this a standalone effort of one determined City to move up into the world?
The answers are more inspiring and amazing.
By itself, the City of San Fernando is the ideal LGU based on the usual benchmarks and reckoning. It is a boom
city recognized, here and overseas, for its best practices as a political institution and for its good governance.
On the economic side, the data tell the story. Revenue generation, the diversified mix of businesses operating,
the yearly surge in investments and new business applications – all of these are the attributes of a first-class city.
And the good news is this. The City of San Fernando is literally at the Southern side of an emerging megalopolis which heart and dynamic center is the Clark Freeport Zone. It is Clark’s appendage down South and it is animated by the same go-go spirit that drives the Freeport.
Clark Freeport Zone, the megalopolis’s dynamic center
The Clark Freeport Zone is the vibrant center of a megalopolis because of two things – its unparalleled physical and infrastructure endowments and its strategic location. What was abandoned by the US Air Force after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in June of 1991 was an ash and lahar-covered place but more or less intact. The physical attributes that made Clark the largest US Air Force Base outside of the Continental US remained. The foundational requirements for an alternative growth center outside of Metro Manila were possessed by Clark even in its state of
Clark, circa early 2019, is a transport hub, a hub for the service industry, a hub for the knowledge economy, a hub for light industries, a retail and entertainment hub- and a host to a city of the future.
The standout feature, the crown jewel, is easily its world-class airport, the Clark International Airport.
The Great Convergence
Clark’s leaps and bounds in terms of development and growth have to be viewed in the context of the word convergence. What, actually did converge?
The unprecedented need for tourism and travel, both domestic and foreign, at some point converged with the unparalleled requirements for the physical requirements of a service economy. Literally the need for an
alternative airport outside of Metro Manila and an ideal place to put in the technology grid for the BPOs outside of Metro Manila.
Only Clark was equipped to fill in the two voids.
Then, this one other factor that is wedded to the life of the Central Plains. The region has been a prodigious source of OFWs, bot the skilled and non-skilled kind, and the medical and health industry workers needed in hospitals across the globe. All moving to various work sites across North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Plus, it is a region of very mobile balikbayans mostly from the US and Canada.
It did not take long before other economic sectors realized that Clark is much more than an alternate gateway and a hub for the knowledge economy. The march to Clark was the result. Light industries, retail, hotels and restaurants, a medical complex and many other related businesses such as vehicle dealerships became part of Clark’s locators.
One new undertaking led to another. Then, the bold plan of carving out entirely new “cities” within the vast Clark complex, which would host, among other things, economic activities of the present and the future.