Casanova: From seminarian to city builder

Arnel Paciano Casanova, who grew up in Batangas, had never been to Metro Manila until he was 19 years old.  He has quickly adapted to the city lifestyle and now at 43, he wants to build a new, modern metropolis in Pampanga to boost the Philippine economy.

Casanova, a Philippine Legion of Honor awardee, is a gallant Filipino who has big dreams for his country.  As the head of a powerful government agency, he has the capacity to transform a vacant military lot into a modern city.

2013_aug18_business2“We need a new city to decongest Metro Manila,” Casanova says over dinner.  The 43-year-old father of two is the president and chief executive of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, a government agency that has the mandate to privatize military lots, develop new cities, build highways, reclaim coastal areas and construct major infrastructure projects.

Casanova is referring to the planned Clark Green City, a 36,000-hectare property in Pampanga which BCDA wants to develop as a new metropolis to unlock the vast economic potential of Central Luzon.  He says the new city is expected to generate 925,000 jobs once it is completed.

It is a big ambition for BCDA, but the agency has proven it can undertake projects of such magnitude, with the development of the 150-hectare Bonifacio Global City, the 25-hectare McKinley Hill, Newport City, Market Market, Serendra, Clark International Airport and the 94-kilometer Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

Casanova has been involved in those projects for 15 years, since he joined BCDA in 1998.  Before he became a city builder, he was a poor young student from Batangas province who worked as a baker, ice cream peddler and fastfood crew member to support his studies.

He has seven siblings, and Casanova felt he needed to work at a young age to help his parents. He studied in Batangas for his basic education and became a seminarian in Lipa City.  He studied Philosophy at St. Francis De Sales Major Seminary.

“I was 19 years old when I went for the first time to Manila to study at the University of the Philippines,” he says.  Casanova studied English at UP Diliman in Quezon City, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1992.  He pursued further studies and graduated with a Law degree from the same institution in 1998.  He also obtained a degree in Urban Planning.

While taking up Law, he worked for the Ramos administration as a part of its peace panel that successfully negotiated peace and recovered weapons from former military rebels involved in a series of bloody coup attempts against the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino.

He was awarded by President Ramos the Philippine Legion of Honor Medal and became one of the youngest recipients of the prestigious award in April 1997.  Casanova was also involved in the peace panel in talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front where he helped craft the initial government strategy in the peace negotiations and arranged ceasefires of combatants.

In 1998, he joined BCDA as chief of staff.  He rose to become the general counsel and corporate secretary of BCDA in April 2003 and he led the agency’s legal team for the development of major projects such as the Bonifacio Global City and the Subic-Clark Tarlac Expressway.  He also served as the corporate secretary of Fort Bonifacio Development Corp. from 2004 to 2009.  He was appointed BCDA president and chief executive in April 2011.

He obtained his Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s School of Government as a World Bank scholar and Mason Fellow in June 2007.  At Harvard, he was considered by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to work for him, but he opted to return to the Philippines.

Before he was appointed as the head of BCDA, he served as the executive director for the Philippines of Asia Society-Philippines Foundation Inc., an international non-government organization promoting international relations between the US and Asia.

He is also one of the pioneers of Kaya Natin! (We can!), a social movement for good governance and ethical leadership. Casanova is a visiting lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government.

He also serves as chairman of governance and human resource committee of Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Inc., the biggest microfinance organization in the Philippines.

The BCDA Group is a powerful government-run conglomerate that has the following units:  Clark Development Corp., Clark International Airport Corp., Poro Point Management Corp., John Hay Management Corp., Bataan Technology Park Inc., North Luzon Railways Corp. and BCDA Management and Holdings Inc.  Its affiliates also include Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

As of June 2013, BCDA has generated P57.7 billion, including the sale of P35.6 billion worth of properties and P16.3 billion worth of joint venture projects.  The AFP has received more than P21.5 billion from the proceeds.

Casanova says the transformation of military bases into modern city blocks will continue. He says plans are under way for the one-hectare Philippine Navy lot along Roxas Boulevard, which BCDA can also expand through reclamation of the Manila Bay.

It will also develop the remaining lots at Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Airbase and is now setting sights on the 179-hectare Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces in Quezon City.

Casanova’s latest project, the Green City in Clark, aims to recharge the economy by building a new metropolis half the size of Metro Manila.

“This [project] promises to be one of the most important destinations not just in Central Luzon, but the country as a whole, for local and international residents, locators and investors,” says Casanova.

The project, he says, will contribute in attracting investments, generating more jobs, boosting the economy and sustaining inclusive growth.

“Once at full development, Clark Green City would generate approximately P1.57 trillion per year to the economy of the country,” he says, adding it will create 925,000 new jobs.

He says at the heart of the 36,000-hectare property is a 9,450-hectare metropolis. “We will start by developing 1,321 hectares for the first phase,” he says.

Casanova says some P59 billion will be invested in the first five years of the project, but the amount will come mostly from the private sector, as the project will be developed through the public-private-partnership arrangement.

He says Clark Green City is the first project of such magnitude that will be undertaken in the history of the country. “Not only are we building a new city, we are building the most modern city in the entire country,” he says.

He says Clark Green City will play a major role in decongesting Metro Manila and boost the country’s economic growth.

He says the project will serve as a showcase of what the country can offer in terms of urban planning and sustainable development.

“With the trend in building sustainable and modern cities in major countries across the world, through Clark Green City, we will be able to show our neighbors that the Philippines can likewise make a huge step in modern, sustainable development,” says Casanova. RTD

Topics: Arnel Casanova , BCDA , Clark Green City , CEO
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