BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
Our leaders are just too fond of wishing for “foreign tourists” to swarm here.
When the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) mulled placing the Iloilo Airport in Cabatuan under the “open sky policy”, Iloilo City mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog was ecstatic.
According to him, the open sky policy would usher in international flights and with it, economic boom as “foreign tourists” would come in droves.
“Open sky policy” is allowing foreign airline companies to operate domestic flights in the Philippines, meaning, they would compete with local airlines in catering to Filipino travelers. (Lucio Tan of PAL has all the right to oppose that because of the eskewed policy of the home countries of these airlines to protect their own from external competitors.)
When the DOTC broached the idea of making the Iloilo Airport accommodate international flights, Mabilog was ecstatic anew for the same reason.
International flights have to yet to be seen in Iloilo. So far, there are no sign of the airport being groomed for international travel like the establishment of the offices of the Bureau of Immigration, the customs and the quarantine to check incoming and outgoing travelers and cargoes.
The grandest event that Mabilog predicts to attract “foreign” tourists is the Iloilo Esplanade inaugurated last August 18: visitors from other lands will come to set foot at the esplanade and view the “beautiful” Iloilo River.
The esplanade is a walkway of about two kilometers along one bank of Iloilo River. Even before it was baptized “esplanade”, people already flocked there to jog, do group exercises or simply, to walk around for relaxation.
The “esplanade” is part of the Iloilo River Development Project, a P1 billion program that purports to clean up and dredge the Iloilo River and relocate informal settlers in model resettlement areas, that is, housing projects where the amenities of access roads, power and water utilities are in place.
Even if no foreign tourist sets foot in the park, Mayor Mabilog or, in case somebody else wins next year, Rommel Ynion, need not fret. The esplanade is just an esplanade, conceived to promote real property transactions primarily, and secondarily, to create noises for tourism.
Mabilog or, in case somebody else wins, Ynion, are invited to join us in a brief journey through history. The economy of Iloilo is not anchored on the influx of foreign tourists. What keeps its tourism alive are domestic travelers, yes fellow Filipinos, who are proud to be Ilonggos and thus, are the ones patronizing its beaches and other tourism-related economic activities like restaurants, hotels, malls, churches and other historical marks. The beaches of southern Iloilo are thriving because their operators cater to local tourists and have long shelved foreigners as their principal clients.
National agencies pick Iloilo as venue for conventions because of Iloilo’s unique culinary traditions, lechon manok bisaya, batsoy, pancit molo, seafoods that are reasonably priced.
The esplanade is part of the plan to promote land deals, starting off when somebody lobbied to erect the Jalandoni Bridge in 2003 that increased the value of vast fishponds reclaimed and titled to a private entity owned by a friend. It is also by coincidence that another friend owns wide chunks of reclaimed lands along the esplanade.
In other words, tourism is just real property venture in disguise.
Mabilog or Ynion, whoever wins in 2013, must have witnessed personally how economic life radiated from Iloilo River, the heart of the city. Its wharf used to bustle, not with tourists, but with vessels shipping products and people to different parts of the Philippines and the world; they likewise brought in people and goods.
The rows of warehouses then hummed with life and created downstream economic activities as cargo handlers became consumers themselves thus, giving income to ambulant vendors.
Iloilo River then was home to ship building plants, dry dock facilities, a car assembly plant, a tire factory, two fish canneries, ice plants, and fleets of fishing boats. Jobs were generated here that in turn created a market for small entrepreneurs operating restaurants and services.
Now, the tourism ek-ek banned even fishing boats from docking. The iron-hulled vessels migrated to Roxas City and with it, the last ice plant along the river.