The Visayas in 2013: Growth and daunting crises
(First of Three Parts)
December 24, 2013
For the entire Visayas islands — save for Eastern Visayas — 2013 started and was sustained by robust growth all through most of the year only to end in calamities so horrendously devastating that this particular instance in Philippine modern history will be etched indelibly in the memories of Filipinos and the whole world for a long period of time.
Altogether, the Visayas regions, Western Visayas, Central Visayas and to a lesser degree, Eastern Visayas, were estimated to contribute as much as 12 percent to the overall growth of what has largely been regarded by the outside world as, Asia’s new economic “strong man,” of late.
Sans catastrophic crises, the Philippines’ full-year growth through 2013 was projected to hover between 7.3 to 7.5 percent from a clearly indicated 6.8 percent growth at yearend 2012.
A diversified economy, fueled by, among other drivers, a booming property development sector, vibrant tourism, and a healthy banking and burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, all contributed to Western Visayas’ positive 8.2 percent economic growth. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy director Fernando Silvoza pointed out during an October 11 visit to the regional capital, Iloilo City, was “higher than the national average of 6.8 percent.”
Meanwhile, Central Visayas, strategically located between major island groups, Mindanao and Luzon, has always been an economic leader among the country’s regions, growing by 9.3 percent last year, 6.8 percent in 2011 and 12.9 percent in 2010. Given its strong momentum in the last three years, Efren Carreon, assistant director for the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Central Visayas (Neda-7) said, in early December, that despite the devastating natural calamities that affected parts of the region, particularly the regional capital, Cebu, in the fourth quarter, “we are targeting 7.5 to 10 percent growth of gross regional domestic product (GRDP) for 2013.”
He said whatever critical events may have occurred in the region in 2013, “many of the industries, including manufacturing, have already produced goods to sell for the entire year.” Some activities, tourism for instance, and particularly agriculture would most likely be affected by the disastrous events that befell the region in October and November, but construction will remain positive as both government and the private sector make efforts to undertake rehabilitation and reconstruction work in areas affected by the calamities.
Even Eastern Visayas, the perennial laggard in terms of growth and development among the three Visayas regions, showed promise. For instance, in September, Department of Science and Technology provincial director in Leyte John Glen Ocana said there were certain indicators that point to an improvement in certain infrastructure, such as the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) parks and the setting up of telecommunications in rural areas.”
Leyte province, and its capital city Tacloban, were in fact regarded by the BPO sector in the country as so-called “next wave” areas, which means they are eyed as potential hubs among locators in the BPO industry.
By the third quarter of 2013, the BPO sector in Eastern Visayas was employing some 4,000 workers, whose total contribution to the regional economy is estimated at about P100 million annually.
The year 2013 also saw the holding of two consequential political events – the senatorial election of May 13, and the barangay elections on October 28. The first was held, using automated machines, and the latter, via the conventional, manual method. But no matter the disparity by which both electoral exercises were held, the fact that the incidents of violence and disorder did not reach alarming levels and the conduct of both electoral exercises was generally peaceful. That was an accomplishment by both the electorate and the authorities who maintained order worth commending.
At the macro level, it was pretty apparent that the country was well on its way to realizing its 2013 growth target projections.
There were a few incidents that marred an otherwise promising year, including the sinking of 2Go passenger ship M/V Thomas Aquinas after a collision with cargo ship MV Sulpicio Express Siete owned by Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. at Cebu Strait off the coast of Talisay City, which resulted in 61 deaths, 59 missing and 750 rescued passengers. However such and other incidents were all eclipsed by the two major natural calamities that struck the Visayas in quick succession, first in mid-October, and then barely two weeks later, in November.
The first of the two calamities was a 7.2-magnitude earthquake described by Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum as having the “energy equivalent of 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs” which disembowelled Central Visayas.
The earthquake on Oct. 15, — the deadliest in about a quarter of a century to happen in the country – shook up the entire Visayas, particularly hitting hard Bohol and Cebu provinces, and was felt beyond, as far as Masbate and even portions of southern Mindanao.
Total damage suffered by Bohol province which was the most affected by the earthquake, and Cebu, is estimated at over P2 billion. Beyond estimation is the heartbreaking damage on some of the country’s — and Bohol’s — most precious national cultural heritage treasures – the centuries-old Roman Catholic churches in Loon, Loboc, Maribojoc, Baclayon, Dais, Loay and Dimiao. The earthquake also caused landslides on the famed natural wonders, the Chocolate Hills in Carmen and the leaning bell tower which serves as the Hills’ viewing deck.
In Cebu City, the quake destroyed the belfry of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño which was constructed in the 16th century.
In all, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) says over 3,000,000 persons or 671,000 families were affected by the massive tremor. Nearly 350,000 people or 72,000 families were displaced and the casualty count included over 200 people dead, eight missing and nearly 90,000 persons injured.
People in the province, most especially the children, have to be given trauma therapy because to date, after shocks continue to cause anxiety among the populace. Phivolcs has recorded over 4,000 aftershocks.
Strongest Cyclone On Record
A little over two weeks after the earthquake struck, aid and rehabilitation efforts for victims of and areas hard hit by the earthquake had to be disrupted when what would be described by such weather experts like real time weather information online service, wunderground.com’s Dr. Jeff Masters as “the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history,” packing extreme wind speeds of 315 km/h (195 mph), hit the country, initially ramming the coastal town of Guiuan, at the southernmost tip of Samar Island facing the Pacific.
Leyte province and Eastern Visayas capital Tacloban City, some 96 miles away from Guiuan, was next to be hit by super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
Seawater, rising to as much as over 20 feet, roared through the city, severely damaging the airport, and drowning thousands of people who local authorities failed to convince to leave their homes in lowland areas, and not sparing even those who did, many of those being evacuees at the 5,000-capacity Tacloban City Convention Center, locally referred to as the Astrodome. Like many major edifices in Tacloban, including Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez’s own mansion, the Astrodome is built near the sea.