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To dream and believe

The Philippine presentation began with a quote from Nobel laureate Anatole France, which translated, goes like this: “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

Thus did the delegation headed by Philippine ambassador to France, Theresa Lazaro, begin its conference with high-level representatives of French businessmen and investors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Monday afternoon (late night Manila time).  The occasion was arranged by our gracious but tough lady ambassador with Agnes Romatet-Espagne, the directress of international trade and tourism promotion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The French Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Harlem Desir presided, and for the Philippines, young and engaging communicator Vivencio B. Dizon, president and CEO of BCDA, did the selling of Clark Green City.

He started with the Anatole France quote, en francais, and bowled the high-level business leaders and government officials present.  Thereafter, he presented the BCDA dream to the gathered audience.

Assisting Dizon in the power-point presentation were Clark Development Corp. CEO Noel Manankil and Clark International Airport GM Alex Cauguiran. who ended the presentation with a quote from Dom Helder Camara, the Brazilian spiritual advocate. 

The visiting Philippine delegation was also headed by eminent persons who have made their mark in their respective fields: BCDA Chairman Greg Garcia, the creative marketing genius who is on his first stint in government, and CDC chairman and former secretary of Transportation and Public Works Ping de Jesus, whose achievements in both the private sector and public service, are, as the French would say, “non pareil.”

The investors and the French officials were so delighted, and what followed was a lively three-hour discussion of specifics.

The Philippine economy’s numbers are quite impressive, and the businessmen knew them: Asia’s fastest-growing economy in the last three years, and the World Economic Forum predicting that it would be the 24th largest economy in the world by 2030, with the Australian continent at number 23.

 But more interesting was the Duterte infrastructure program that Budget Secretary promised to usher in a “golden age of infrastructure”: progressively increased public infrastructure spending from 5.4 percent of GDP now, up to 9 percent in 2021, for a total of 160 billion dollars within the term of the president.  Partnered with assistance and long-term loans from other countries and multi-lateral institutions, it would allow us to catch up with our more advanced Asian neighbors.

The “piece de resistance” of the Dizon presentation was that finally, this government would begin the construction of a new world-class airport terminal in Clark the design of which was funded through the assistance of the French government and Aeroport de Paris, but which was for reasons still unexplained, laid dormant by the previous administration’s “walang pakialam” attitude.

 Around that airport would gravitate several industrial and business parks where several countries would invest, the most exciting of which, thus far, is the plan to build Asia’s largest food cold chain and logistics terminal in coordination with the world’s largest and most efficient—Rungis Marche International.

The Philippine group, headed by highly successful logistics expert and now DoTr Secretary Art Tugade, along with USec Cesar Chavez and other assistant secretaries visited the sprawling Rungis operations at 4:30 in the morning of Monday, April 3, just before conferences with French aeronautics and airport officials and then the investors conference the whole afternoon.

 They saw how farm produce from the whole Europe, from all kinds of meat to all kinds of seafood, vegetables and fruits were brought to precise temperature controlled pavilions by railcar and lorries, thence purchased by supermarket and grocery chains, restaurateurs and hoteliers and even small retailers, all within one day of smooth efficiency.  The whole experience deserves another article.

But what is most remarkable is that Rungis, which moved the main produce distribution center from Paris Les Halles to a 234-hectare spread some 7 kilometers south of Paris, started with the vision of the legendary Charles de Gaulle as early as the sixties.

It is the perfectly modern version of our “bagsakan” center which Ferdinand Marcos, through his creation of the National Food Authority in 1972 tried to replicate, albeit on smaller scale through the Food Terminal in Taguig.

But while Rungis grew to become the world’s best and most efficient, FTI in Taguig was left to rot when Marcos and his food security czar, the late Jesus Tanchanco, father of the NFA, left the scene with the ascent of President Cory Aquino.  As early as 1988, the decision to sell off FTI in a wave of privatizing publicly-owned real estate because of financially-ineffective operations was made.

But President Rodrigo Duterte wants modern food terminals revived, and the first step would be in Clark, with likely a sub-distribution center in Taguig with what is left of the FTI after Ayala Land took over three-fourths of its real estate.  Which is why Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, who chairs the NFA now, sent his newly-appointed FTI chief, Ariel Buenaventura, to join the Paris delegation.

During the campaign, then-Mayor Digong in private conversations with his vice presidential candidate, Senator Alan Cayetano of Taguig, intimated his desire to help farmers and spur agricultural modernization while stabilizing food supply and prices.  Now president, among his first directives was to implement an effective food supply chain.

In Clark, Rungis plans a 300-hectare cold chain and logistics facility which would serve not only the Philippines but Asean as well.  It is serendipitous that this plan is being revived by Duterte on the 50th anniversary of the Southeast Asian aggrupation.

What makes Clark ideal is its location and proximity to both source and market, an international airport and soon, a cargo rail link between Subic seaport and Clark airport. 

 The French encounter began with a quote from Anatole France, about dreams and beliefs.  CIAC GM Cauguiran ended the long day with a quote from Camara: “When you dream alone, it is just a dream.  When you dream with others, that is the beginning of reality.”

Would that more Filipinos realize, as the French under De Gaulle did, that dreaming together is the beginning of reality.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Philippine ambassador to France , Theresa Lazaro , BCDA
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