Friday, May 25, 2018


by Roger Pe 
Business Mirror
May 24, 2018 issue

It is one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines because of its vibrant tourism industry. As one of the Philippines’ major tourist drivers, it is in a class by itself. A world heritage site and countless other new and undiscovered wonders of nature can be found here.
The city has never been hit by a major earthquake in the last 500 years so that will give you something that money can’t buy: Peace of mind. Seldom visited by typhoons, it is shielded by eastern Philippine islands from the Pacific side.
Puerto Princesa is the next big thing in real estate development after Clark, Cebu and Davao. To begin with it, has a spanking new international airport that can accommodate advanced-technology jetliners. 
Prior to Boracay’s temporary closure, domestic airlines fly in and out of the city 125 times a week or 18 times a day from major cities like Manila, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Clark, including chartered flights from China, Korea and Taiwan. With 28 to 34 flights a day today, it is easily the busiest provincial city airport in the Philippines.
Right now, it is also the cruise ship capital of the Philippines and its port continues to undergo modernization and upgrade.
Diverse mineral and other natural resources abound in Palawan’s only city. Perhaps the only city in the country with a large forest cover still intact, the many treasures you will find in Puerto Princesa comes in the form of affordable real estate. 
The burgeoning city expands north to south. Primed for growth, these areas are all poised to experience an economic boom from 2020 and beyond. 
Inventory of move-in-ready properties that are suitable for retirement and investment purposes are on the upswing, and they are also relatively inexpensive.
Puerto Princesa originally failed to command the attention of big stakeholders but the reverse is happening now. In recent years, the city’s real estate market is beginning to throb and it is getting an eyeful from those who are thinking about the future.
Why not? The city is the center for communication, education and public administration for Palawan. It is a carbon-neutral city, has good and stable peace and order, warm and committed people, diverse and skilled manpower.
Investment haven
After Camella Homes, Brighton Homes of Robinsons Land Corporation, Regatta Bay of Cabanilla Marketing and Development Corporation, Imperial Palace of Phil De Meer Corporation, Shojin Herbal and Wellness Eco-Resort of Ai World Corporation and Harbor Springs of Santa Lucia Land are just some of the big names that have invested in the city. To date, the city’s investment portfolio has amounted to Php3.380 Billion pesos.

According to City Tourism Officer Aileen Amurao, two of them are brand names known worldwide and the rest have good reputation in the Philippines. Imperial Palace Hotel, she says, is a 9-hectare hotel and resort development in Honda Bay, with a 4-hectare floor area, and a total of 162-guest rooms majority of which are composed of villas.
She said, another big investor in the city is Ai World, a mountain resort nestled in a vast highland in Bacungan. The resort-and-park-in-one is under the development of Neogreen and being operated by World Ai Corporation. It opened publicly last March 4, 2107 and has continuously drawn influx of tourists everyday since.
Santa Lucia and Century Properties have also ventured in Puerto Princesa. John Eric D. Escanillas, VP for national sales and marketing at Santa Lucia, explained that they are investing in the city to further expand the company’s footprint.

In a related story, Santa Lucia president Exequiel Robles said his company’s entry to Palawan is brought about by the demand it got from its offices abroad.
“There is a strong clamor from overseas Filipino workers for national developers to come to Puerto Princesa and provide them with better home choices. Robles said. Most OFWs prefer to invest in their place of origin. But when they have extra money, they consider investing in other areas and one of those is Puerto Princesa and Palawan province,” he added.
Sitel Group Philippines has also established a countryside expansion program in the city. Its latest addition to Sitel’s Philippine operations opened 1,000 new jobs for the people of Puerto Princesa and Palawan province. 
A group of Chinese businessmen, led by Zhang Yuxiang, chief manager of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) visited the city last year to explore possible investment ventures related to trade and tourism. He was quoted as saying: “China wants to bring more Chinese tourists to the city through tourism infrastructure investments in the province. 

Another group arrived a week later to check the possibility of investing in aquaculture, particularly in the rearing of high-value export commodity fish. “The businessmen checked on five marine aquaculture parks in the city for the possibility of establishing hatcheries for high-value species of groupers,” Roberto Abrera of the Regional Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said. 
The proposed sites are located in barangays Santa Lucia and Binduyan. The reciprocal visit was upon the orders and guidance of President Rodrigo Duterte to look for mutual economic support opportunities in fisheries development.
Last year, retail, banking, and real estate giant SM opened its 64th mall in Puerto Princesa. 
Because of the many exciting things that are happening in the city, Business Mirror interviews the equally dynamic Lucilo Bayron, mayor of Puerto Princesa to let us know what is happening to the Philippines’ next most prosperous city.
Business Mirror: Mayor, let’s start by getting to know you better.

Bayron: My father used to work with the Bureau of Prisons under the Department of Justice. He started as a prison guard. I was born in Muntinlupa, inside the New Bilibid Prison Hospital because my father was an employee. He was then transferred to Iwahig Penal Colony and that’s where I grew up. 

My mother is a Palawena, born in Coron and belonged to a big family - the Rodriguez, Fernandez, and Ponce De Leon clan. There were five of us, I am the only boy among 4 girls, and second to the eldest. We came to Iwahig when I was 6 years old. I started Grade 1 and finished my elementary education here. 
My father became the Superintendent of Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm before he retired. My mother was a teacher who later became the Principal of Iwahig Elementary School. 
I took up high school in Letran College but transferred to Siliman University where I graduated. Then I attended  college at Siliman University but transferred to University of the East where I finished BSBA major in Marketing. 

What were the most important things you learned from your parents? 

My mother was a strict disciplinarian. My father was a little tolerant, a combination that was really perfect for us, I think. My father was a practical guy whom I learned many things. I learned a lot in Iwahig because it was like a communist camp where nobody owned anything and everybody worked. I learned how salt was made, how fish ponds were being developed, how to harvest a bangus, as well as coconuts and process them into copra.

Your first job after graduating from college?

I started at the Provincial Capitol. While waiting for a pharmaceutical company in Manila, my father asked me to come home. He talked to the late Governor Salvador Socrates and I was taken in as a casual employee earning 8 pesos a day. My heart was not exactly into it as I seldom came to the office, indignant that it was not commensurate to what my father had spent for me in college. But I persevered upon my father’s proddings. 

One time, the governor met with all fresh graduates from different Manila universities. In that meeting, he gave us an assignment from which I was able to come up with a better and faster output than the rest did. The governor said: “This guy is worth developing.” They then sent me to several trainings conducted by USAID and that’s how I learned about local government unit operations. 

How did you become involved in local government?

Hagedorn asked me to join him in government when he won against Oliveros (my uncle) in 1992. He appointed me as City Administrator (his wife was under me when I was working at the capitol). I was reluctant at first because my business was doing good. But then, his relatives came to me, and pleaded to work with him. 

We agreed that I will work only for one year. I wanted to leave after his first term and told him: “I’m leaving because there are no more mountains to climb. I told him, “You’re doing good, there is no need for me to stay.” So I left.

When he ran for re-election in 1995, I was his City Administrator and he wanted me to be his campaign manager at the same time. I told him: “I can do only one job. You choose, either you retain me as the City Administrator or you get as campaign manager. No problem with me, but only one.”

I joined him and I became his campaign manager. After elections, when all votes were counted and he was declared winner, I told him: “I’m leaving.”

He could not say anything because he knew that I was serious. I was out of the city for one and a half years and went back to my business which suffered tremendously while I was working with the city government.

The mayor again asked my friends if he could talk to me. I then got an unexpected call. He was on the other line. To make the story short, I accepted to join him again in the government and I got stuck.”

What’s your job as a city administrator like? 

I was his alter ego. I functioned like the mayor. Pag sinabi kong meeting, meeting talaga (when I say that we need to meet, it was serious). I was always on time. I was in-charge of all problems in the city hall. From 1992 to 1995, I organized city events, announcements, down to the nitty-gritties.

Hagedorn launched “Bantay Puerto”, “Bantay Gubat”, “Bantay Dagat”. I conceptualized “Oplan Linis” and the city’s Housing Program. We focused on the coastal areas because people were polluting the bay. We found out that there were more than 8,000 families in the coastal area from Bagong Sikat to Abaniko, San Pedro. 

We made an inventory (previously not ever done) of the coastal areas and a comprehensive census, how many families lived in those areas and where they worked. We prepared a map and turned it over to the barangays to avoid non-stop relocations.

With Oplan Linis, you were able to launch “Clean and Green” movement? 

No. “Clean and Green” was the result of Oplan Linis. We were much, much more ahead then. We were already doing “clean and green” because of our Oplan Linis, which I was recognized as the author.
I saw to it that it will click. When it did, we won awards after awards each year. Until we became a Hall of Famer.

The accomplishments you’re most proud of during your first term?

I attended to the city’s financial problems when I got elected. We had to tighten our belts and did away with unnecessary expenditures. We cut down on free convention dinners. Why should the city government spend for convention goers - engineers, lawyers, businessmen? They can easily afford a 500-peso plate. I would rather spend them for the poor. They would be happy with 200-peso worth of food. 

In one and half years, we were able to turn around the city’s financial problem. We even got a recognition for our fiscal management. The DILG awarded us the Good Financial Housekeeping plaque three times. We twice won a Seal of Good Governance and the Ombudsman awarded us the Blue Certification Award (ease of doing business in the city by reducing the number of steps in getting a Mayor’s Permit).

How is Puerto Princesa’s financial status and tax collection?

Doing good. Unlike before when the city owed a lot of money. Do you have collectibles from the city? How much? Php50M? You’ll get paid. Not on staggered basis. We have funds stashed away in the bank. Our local budget for Infra is Php400M. That’s money we earned. 

Then we stopped contracting road projects. The administration does it now. It is more efficient, cost wise. We’ve eliminated the contractor’s profit margin and VAT, so we saved at least 25%.

Your future plans about Puerto Princesa tourism?

We plan to put up a Biodiversity Museum that will house Palawan birds, animals, marine life, insects, and plants similar to the Natural Museum in Washington DC. We will also build a 12,000 to 15,000 capacity convention center with adjacent hotels near the Puerto Princesa Bay area, patterned after Sydney’s. 

We would like to increase our hotel occupancy to 10,000. For once, we will be ambitious and build the tallest tower in the Philippines - a modern structure with a dancing fountain and synchronized lighting technology.

“Balayong” Park will be a big attraction. When the Palawan Cherry Blossoms trees fully grow and bloom in the city’s 1,000-hectare park, it will be a spectacular sight. When it happens, we will beat Zamboanga, known as “ciudad del flores”. It’s just a matter of time and it will come.

The USAID is helping us attract investments. At the moment, we have incentives for tourism related businesses. We give priority to tourism, agriculture, and renewable energy.

We are developing our own “Tourism Mile” along Rizal Avenue, from the provincial capitol to Abrea Road, close to the old airport. We give investors a tax holiday for 5 years. 

We will push for our “night time economy” but at the same provide peace and order to make visitors enjoy their stay in Puerto Princesa as they always do.

Do you have earthshaking plans to make the Underground River even more attractive?

Because of Puerto Princesa Underground River’s limited carrying capacity, our expansion plans are tied down. But we do not stop finding creative solutions on how to further develop the area. For example, increasing the entrance fee to the world heritage site so as not to lose opportunities to earn. 

“How much is 500 pesos to dollars? $10.How much do you spend when you go to a destination in the US or in other parts of the world? That’s hundreds of dollars. But here, you are only charged a pittance. I think, we can generate Ph210M a year from the present 70M per annum. 

We can use the money to protect the World Heritage Site by taking care of people who take care of the park. By increasing the number of forest rangers they will be more effective.

“Ang tao hihintayin na tumalikod ka bago putulin ang kahoy (when you are not around, people cut trees). We need to change that mindset - the desire to cut down trees because they earn from them. Let’s give it back to them in whatever form. When people see that it is being plowed back to them, they will protect nature for the next generation. I believe we should also come up with more manmade destinations. 

What are you doing about the Paleco problem?

In May last year, the city government proposed filing a class suit against Paleco officials. Our meeting produced a resolution of mounting a signature campaign demanding the resignation of Paleco officials should they fail to end the power problem in 15 days.

“The problem with Paleco is it good at passing the buck and giving reasons for its line and distribution failures. They say that its plant capability is 81MW and requirement is only 43MW but brownout still happens.”

Recently, DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi and I signed a contract for the country’s first Waste-to-Energy Project, a breath of fresh air in a city faced with rising costs, unreliable, and 100%-fossil-fuel-dependent electricity. 

As population, tourism and development grow at a rapid pace, we decided to pursue a novel and sustainable solid waste management system that converts waste to energy, thereby, hitting two birds in one stone.

Doing away with the need to construct another expensive sanitary landfill and earning unexpected income of up to P20M a year as its share from project revenue, the city will save P40M annually which is its budget allocation for solid waste collection since Austworks will do the actual waste collection themselves.”

What’s your governance style?  
As a Vice Mayor for 9 years and before I was elected mayor, I made sure that I was visible and more accessible. I am the person people see in city hall. I decide fast. I tell people straight that if it is not possible, it is not possible. I plan where the city government is headed. I steer the ship to its direction. I do my own strategizing.
How do you intend to make a mark as a mayor?
Currently, we are a first class city. Highly urbanized but our facilities belie the fact. But I am working on it. People have seen many changes through our many projects that are all visible. On my Day One as mayor, we began with a health program by combing all barangays. We told them, we did not come here because of politics. We are here to serve the people.

I brought all councilors with me with our sincere "Mapagkalingap Program", a caring city service for the neglected, poor, teachers, students and senior citizens. 

We looked at education as the great equalizer in life. I, for one, believe that being poor is not an excuse to achieve knowledge. “Kahit anak ka ng mahirap, kung nag-aaral kang mabuti, baka malagpasan mo pa yong mayaman na bulakbol (even if you are poor, your chances of getting ahead are much better than a rich kid who doesn’t take his studies seriously).

What do you think is your greatest strength? 

When I say something, I do it. Word of honor is important to me. I am a working mayor who is always on time. Dependable. I have good work ethics and not an absentee. I lead by example. As a family man, people call me "Dad". I have become the father figure to the city by that name.

How do you see Puerto in the next 10 years? 

I think you will not recognize Puerto Princesa during that time. The way I see it, the city is like an airplane, it has taken off and destined to fly higher and farther. It's a fast growing city. Rapidly urbanizing. The population is equally increasing because of migration from other parts of the country. We have become the country’s melting pot.

Cuyono, once our local language, is not anymore. We’ve become a ‘Tagalog’ speaking city. People from all over the country have settled here. Rapid urbanization, equals worsening traffic, equals worsening garbage problem, equals more services and facilities. We never fear the daunting task. We are here to find an out-of-the-box solution for the challenges in the present and ahead of us.