VIVENCIO ‘VINCE’ BRINGAS DIZON, a bright young light of the administration, wears many hats. The biggest hat is as the prime mover of the ambitious plan to build a new city that will become the capital of government in the country
By BY RAFAEL A. S. G. ONGPIN
PHOTOS | BASES CONVERSION AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
P+P: New Clark City (NCC) started with almost a blank sheet of paper. Apart from the constraints
of terrain, it could be drawn in almost any form.
It was a chance to correct the mistakes and retire the obsolete assumptions of previous urban plan- ning. How has NCC taken advantage of this starting point?
VBD: There are two major partners in this effort. The first joint venture partner of Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) on the design and masterplan of New Clark City is the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN), a semi-private, semi-government Japanese institution composed of the biggest companies in Japan and the Japanese govern- ment. BCDA and JOIN brought in Surbana Jurong of Singapore. So, it is an effort in partnership with the best planners in the world, the Japanese and the Singaporeans.
I think the master plan, which we are executing now, really started with one simple and very critical idea, and that is to plan and develop New Clark City primar- ily for people. It all started with that very simple idea. That we want to build a city from scratch with people at the center. It sounds like a simple and basic idea, but unfortunately if you look at cities not only in the Philippines, many of them do not adhere to this very simple concept and principle.
Case in point, Metro Manila, Cebu, and other cities in developed countries like in the US, like Los Angeles, for example. These cities are rather built for cars than people. All over the world, you now have this move ment in urban planning where, slowly but surely, planners are repurposing old cities and building new cities that are centered on people. That is the foundation by which New Clark City has been planned with the Japanese and Singaporean part- ners. It is starting to become a reality.
When you look at the road design in New Clark City, we already have dedicated pedestri- an and bicycle lanes in the plan and in the initial implemen- tation. Unfortunately, you see very little of these in Philippine cities. Now, because of the pandemic, we are now retrofit- ting and redesigning streets and roads to include bike lanes. We also see very narrow pedestrian lanes here—unlike the roads and boulevards in Singapore. When you go along Orchard Road in Singapore, the lanes for bikes and pedestrians are almost as wide as those for cars. So that requires vision and right execution.
If you look at roads in New Clark City, we have dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes, which are quite wide. Those two lanes (pedestrian and bicycle) are almost two thirds of the width of the lanes for cars. So that is just an example of how we move from planning to execution.
The other major thing about building for people is incorporating design for mass transportation in the master plan. There is a dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) system in the roads that we have. During the pan- demic, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) incorporated this idea on EDSA. That is why you have a dedicated bus lane at the center of EDSA. That is being execut- ed all over the world. But in the design for ew Clark City, BRT system is already in the blueprint from the get-go. If you look at our streets now, those center lanes are go- ing to be dedicated for buses from the very beginning. The planning of NCC incorpo- rated those designs. These are already part of the execution and implementation of the first phases of the development.
P+P: Other countries have tried building new cities from scratch, like La Défense near Paris, and Putra- jaya in Malaysia, with mixed results. Even Canberra and Washington, DC, were planned cities designed to be the seat of government. What have you learned from these examples?
VBD: First of all, let us talk about the successes of countries that have done this. One of the most successful is Washington, DC. They did that very early on, moving from New York to developing this swampland in Virginia into what is now Washington, DC. La Défense was also quite a success be cause now it is a growing part of Paris. Of course, there was some resistance in the beginning but it is pretty much a very major part of Paris. In terms of those who are not that successful, Brasilia is one. Putrajaya is somehow mixed.
What we have learned is a key ingredient of success is proximity to the existing capitol. We have seen that if you build very far off, then it is very difficult to create a kind of critical mass you want to create in a new city. Second ingredient for success is that connectivity infrastructure has to be there. Third, it needs to be in a place which already has a pretty critical mass of inhabitants or population. So those are the key ingredients that our planners put into the planning—and obviously the choice of location—in order to ensure a higher probability of success com- pared to those that have had mixed results.
Based on those three, New Clark City checks all of those boxes. Number one, it is pretty proximate to Metro Manila, less than a hundred kilometers away.
Second, we have the existing connectivity infrastructure, with NLEX (North Luzon Ex- pressway) and SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Ex- pressway). Plus, it has its own airport—Clark International Airport. We are even expanding that,and we are opening the new terminal by June. We also have the connectivity infrastructure to a major seaport, Subic, which is growing tremendously, especially in the last five years. We’ve also got the Manila to Clark railway being built now by the DOTr. It is likely to be operational by 2024-2025. It is very much in sync with the timetable of the initial developments in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of New Clark City.
Lastly, we have already a very strong critical mass of people within the area. It is right smack in the mid-
dle of Central Luzon, with a huge population that has strong purchasing power. A lot of people who live in Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, and Bataan circle around New Clark City. That’s about 10 million people inhab- iting that huge area—especially in cities like Angeles, Mabalacat, Tarlac, and then even going all the way up to Zambales and Bataan. This is not just a very dense and highly populated area; it is an area with one in the country. I think pre-pandemic, this area was growing 9 percent relative to over 6 percent of the entire country. You also have this area with high purchasing power primarily being driven by Overseas Filipino Work- ers (OFWs) or families of OFWs. According to our planners, that’s a very good start to have, know- ing that those three boxes are checked.
P+P: Manila was planned by [urban planner and architect Daniel] Burnham but we did not follow the plan. The big lesson of Manila is to follow the plan. I hope who- ever succeeds you—I’m talking about even decades in the future—will follow the plan. How do we undo the mistakes of the past?
VBD: I hope so, Apa. I cannot agree more. That is what scares me—between you and me. I mean the plan is there, it is very clear that the design standards and guidelines are very, very detailed. Even up to the point where the colors of the benches in the parks are deter- mined. But you are right, it is all about execution. It is all about making sure the plans are followed so I hope we are able to create enough momentum under this administration so that next administrations will follow the plan.
P+P: What are the specific factors that will make NCC sustainable in the long term?
VBD: From the get-go, the vision is really to have a green and sustainable development. One major compo- nent of sustainability is to have open green space. We have that in the plan and we’ve got to make sure the plan is followed. We have instituted a very strict open green space to buildable ratio of 60:40. We are going
to maintain and ensure that 60 percent of the area is green, while the remaining 40 percent is buildable. That needs to be followed. Obviously in Metro Manila, you’re probably talking about 5 percent, if not even less, of open green space.
Number two, we have ensured that all of the utili- ties are prescribed to be green and sustainable. We are talking about transportation, so that’s the use of low emission in the city. We are talking about electric buses and very limited use of personal vehicles. We have a huge promotion of active transportation, meaning walking and cycling. We want to create a network of active infrastructure so that people, like those in cities in Asia and Europe, can just park their car and move from one district to another by biking or walking. In the future, we are even looking at autonomous electric vehicles— we have tested this technology, by the way during the Southeast Asian Games. We have also awarded our pow- er distribution to a consortium between Meralco and Marubeni of Japan. They have very strict, smart grid, and sustainable power distribution requirements in that contract, which was written by Asian Development Bank (ADB). It leverages a lot of new technologies for smart power to minimize systems losses and wastage.
It also leverages renewable power, which is solar. There is a huge potential of solar power in this area simply because we get a lot of sun throughout the year.
We need to provide a very sustainable source of water. Right now, it is not that sustainable because
we are taking from the ground, deep well. Part of our contract with Prime Water Infrastructure Corpora- tion and Tahal Group of Israel is for them to provide
a roadmap where we go to surface water. We are going to be building this huge central park lake under a grant from the United Kingdom and the Prosperity Fund of the UK. It will be a 22-hectare man-made lake, which will also serve as a surface water system, to capture water from everywhere in the city and from two river systems originating in mountain ranges all the way in Zambales. Hopefully the plan for that will be complet- ed before the Duterte administration ends, so that the next administration can implement and follow the plan. Similar to what they did in Putrajaya.
P+P: How has the pandemic affected NCC’s design? Have you made changes based on insights from the pandemic?
BD: The beauty of the design and the masterplan of NCC is that it is grounded on resiliency that can address any and all even- tualities including what we are going through right now. We have already asked our Singaporean and Japanese planners to look into some tweaks to account for the pandemic, especially in the design of the buildings. The open spaces are already networked in such a way that will provide a lot of space for social distancing.
P+P: How has the pandemic and economic slowdown affected NCC’s development and evolution?
VBD: There are unfortunate de- lays. The delays are coming from two factors. First, our private sec- tor locators have experienced de- lays, and there are major ones like Filinvest. Filinvest has a 288-hectare industrial mixed- use area that was supposed to start accepting locators already during the first half of 2021. They are now looking towards the end of 2021 to beginning of 2022.
It is understandable. Their build is being delayed and there’s the challenge of getting the locators to move in while the pandemic is happening. There are restrictions on travel and pushbacks from foreign companies moving to other areas, outside of their respective countries. Delays there will be about six months to a year.
Another one is our tourism and leisure locators. Prior to the pandemic, we signed a contract with a group that is bringing in The Banyan Tree Hotel and Angsana Hotel. It is going to be the first Banyan Tree Hotel in the country, an ultra-luxe mountain resort with three golf courses in a 450-hectare property in a highly elevated area of NCC. We signed that in November 2019 and development was supposed to start in 2020, but obviously that has been delayed. It is unfortunate, but it is there. It is just going to be delayed about a year. These are signed contracts already, so it is just a matter of when they will start developing.
Hopefully they will start later this year and towards 2022.
Second, the infrastructure proj- ects. We encountered some delays, for example, in the Clark International Airport [New] Terminal, that should have been already operational now. But we’ve had a six-month delay. We are targeting the inauguration of the new terminal in Clark airport by next year. It’s going to be run by Filin-
vest and Robinsons Land, and their partner will be Changi of Singapore. It’s going to be not only a beautiful airport, but also very well-run, thanks to the involvement of Changi. But there are delays there as well.
P+P: One of your biggest landowners and stakehold- ers, the Chelsea group of Dennis Uy, has experi- enced massive reversals due to the pandemic. They are selling off assets to stay afloat; they just sold 2GO, the largest domestic logistics company. They had planned to make NCC their logistics hub. Will they divest from NCC, or do they remain committed?
VBD: First of all, their investment is not in New Clark City. It is in Clark, which is the old US base. It sits on
a 170-hectare property, a mixed-use business districtof Clark, and they are still there.
They have not informed us of any delay, as far as we know, all systems are still go for that development. It is really a prime development because it is literally a stone’s throw away from Clark International Airport and when that opens, the effect on real estate around that area is going to be tremendous.
P+P: Government is supposed to move to NCC. So far, you have DOTr and a few attached agencies. Is anyone else going to make the jump, do you think, during this presidency?
VBD: In fact, a very significant number of them will. The president, last year in November, signed Execu- tive Order 119 mandating the transfer, beginning with satellite offices, and regional offices to New Clark City. Several agencies have already signed up, but the biggest one is the lease agreement we signed with the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas, in early February. The agreement is for 30 hectares, for the move of the currency produc- tion and mint facility currently in East Avenue, Quezon City, to New Clark City. And that’s going to be a huge move. Not only the mint, but also their data warehous- ing. Their business continuity and data warehouse is going to move to NCC, and things like the Central Bank museum. So this is a major move, apart from other agencies like the Office of the Civil Defense, the region- al office of the National Economic Development Ad- ministration, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Infor- mation and Communi- cations Technology, the Department Of Science and Technology.
We’ve also signed a deal for a 20-hectare property for the Department of Agri- culture. They’re going to move a lot of their offices and a lot of research labs in there. This also includes a Virology Institute in New Clark City. Several of them have already been set up, obviously there are some delays because of the pandemic, but I think this is going to happen towards the latter part of the Duterte administration.
I see no reason why the next administration will not continue this, because it just makes sense to do
it. There is a potential real estate play for the national government because a lot of land in Metro Manila cur- rently occupied by government offices, but that will be freed up, is now a huge source of potential revenue for the national government. It’s a no-brainer, not just for this administration, but for future administrations.
P+P: As a private business owner, why should I con- sider moving to NCC? Specifically, if I am in Ser- vices? Manufacturing? Technology? Construction and infrastructure? Food and beverage? Transport?
VBD: I think the first thing is the infrastructure that has been developed around it. I think that’s the key. I will give a very good example of this. In the ‘90s, there was a big move to develop the Calabarzon area south of Metro Manila into a major industrial hub. A lot of huge companies, both local and foreign, went there. That’s why there are all these techno parks, all these indus- trial hubs in Cavite, Laguna, and Batangas. However, what we saw was that, if the development is not planned well, especial- ly infrastructure, then there is a great risk of over-development and of obviously, congestion, and that’s exactly what happened.
Now we have a situation where, if you’re an exporter of semiconductors in one of the techno parks in Laguna, it’s quite difficult for you to move around, either to Batangas Port or to the Port of Manila, or to move your stuff to NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport), because it’s already congested.
Fortunately, there’s been a catch up in infrastructure. We’re now starting to build CALAX (Cavite-Lagu- na Expressway, we’re expanding SLEX (South Luzon Expressway), among others. I think those came too late. What we’re trying to do in the north is the same model, we’re pushing the development there but we’ve already put in place the necessary infrastructure that these services and manufacturing industries will need when that push comes in. You’ve got BPOs already moving to the north instead of the south. They’re moving to Clark, they’re moving to Pampanga, Tarlac, all the way up to San Fernando, La Union. The primary driver of that is the infrastruc- ture. Unlike the South, Clark has its own airport that
is also connected to Manila via a major freeway. Subic is connected with that Freeway. If you are going to move your goods, you don’t have to go to Manila. Here, you go through SCTEX, to get to Subic, and it’s really predictable. We’re also building a railway system both for freight and for commuters. Apart from that, with the passage of CREATE, the new incentive mechanism, then you’ve got a very clear, very predictable, and very investor-friendly menu of incentives in both Clark, Subic, and all the other zones in this area.
With the investments in infrastructure, I think that is a very, very strong value proposition to investors.
In fact, we’re talking to a huge Filipino and Japanese investor group now. We’re not at liberty to divulge who the investors are, but I proposed to build something similar to the techno parks in the South. These inves- tors are now one of the biggest techno parks and indus- trial parks there. They wrote to us in February, and they want to take up around 150 hectares of industrial land in New Clark City. I hope we can get that done in the next couple of months. It’s not going to happen while we’re going through this very difficult time, but as long as the deal is done, then we know it’s going to happen in the next couple of years.
If an industrial estate owner wants a lease, first of all, there is no more land to lease in Metro Manila and there’s also very little land left in the South and they’re so expensive already there. So that’s another huge val- ue proposition, the lease value for industrial land in the north, in Central Luzon, versus southern Metro Manila and Metro Manila, they’re miles apart right now. That’s another value proposition that’s much cheaper.
P+P: That’s really the key, because the whole point is to decongest the NCR. It’s unsustainable to begin with. NCC has a good proposition, it has to be cheaper, it’s nicer.
VBD: Absolutely. That’s the value propo- sition we want. It’s to give work and play without sacrificing quality of life.
P+P: I guess I’m a little bit hazy on Old Clark or the airbase. Is it integrated into the vision of the NCC?
VBD: It is, Apa! It’s fully integrated. In fact the plan, everything is integrated: The roads are integrated, the mass trans- portation is integrated, so everything is integrated. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Japanese. In Tokyo, they have these prefectures shin; Shinjuku etc., and shin essentially means “new.” It’s like a new territory, and new area, right? That’s why we called it New Clark City. Initially, the name of NCC was Clark Green City. Our chairman, in consultation with our Japanese partners, changed it to New Clark City because what we wanted to say is, this is just one development. Clark is a huge 32,000-hectare development. That’s roughly half the size of Metro Manila, which is 65,000 hectares. The de- velopment we have now in NCC is just a new develop- ment, but it’s all part of this huge development we call Clark. It’s all one development, and the master plan is just one.
P+P: How advanced is the Bulacan-Clark high speed railway? Will it open within this president’s term? How critical is it to making NCC a viable proposition?
VBD: Well, they started already. They started in the middle of 2019, and I’m not sure of the percentages but they’re already building the columns from Malolos to Manila, and now the Malolos to Clark is already being built. It’s all awarded by the ADB, and they’ve already started to build some of the segments on the Clark side because that is easier, we don’t have right-of-way problems and they can build right away. I think the target is Clark all the way to Manila should be done by 2024-2025.
P+P: How critical is it for the plan of NCC?
VBD: Very critical, Apa. Like I said, the success is really the proximity to the existing capital, the transport, the connectivity. If you have a railway, that’s going to bring you from Manila, let’s say from Makati or Taguig, to Clark Airport and New Clark City in an hour, guaranteed, that just cements this whole Clark. I mean, people can just take the train and live there, work in Manila, or vice versa. Live in Manila, work there. Easy.
P+P: That would be fantastic. I hope that they don’t encounter further obstacles, because this pandemic can’t be good for them.
VBD: I think at most you’ll have a year delay. But any- thing more than a year, maybe not. I think a year delay here and there.
P+P: Clark airport was intended to largely replace NAIA as the country’s central air portal. Now, it looks like it will get stiff competition from San Mi- guel’s planned Bulacan airport. Is that not a threat to NCC? Why would people choose Clark?
VBD: We look at it a very different way. Bulacan airport is really, as you said, what will supplant NAIA. That is really what’s going to happen. Because NAIA is just too congested. The carrying or operational capacity of NAIA is probably 30 million passengers a year, and NAIA pre-pandemic is already doing 45 million. It’s really over- used. The capacity is way, way over.
Clark has its own catchment. Because at the end of the day, the population of Luzon and given our increasing international and domes- tic tourism, will require two airports, similar to Tokyo, which has Hane- da and Narita. Other big metropolitan cities have multiple airports. Bulacan really is a complement to Clark because it will eventually replace NAIA. I mean, 45 million in NAIA, Clark cannot handle that volume. Even with the new terminal, we can only handle 12.5 million passengers annually. NAIA needs to continue operating up until the time that Bulacan can take a huge chunk of passengers, then Bulacan and Clark can work together just like an ecosystem of Haneda and Narita in Tokyo, or like Dulles and Reagan in Washing- ton. That’s the idea, to handle the volume we already have, and to move forward as the economy continues to grow.
That’s why even the name of Bulacan airport is the New Metro Manila International Airport.
P+P: Is it easier to establish, register, and maintain a business in NCC than elsewhere?
VBD: You know the beauty of Clark is that we are our own regulatory body. We are not part of any local gov- ernment unit, we are our own national agency, so every- thing is all integrated. It’s like a huge one-stop shop, ev- erything is there. You don’t need to deal with the city of this, city of that, munisipyo of this, munisipyo of that. If you are a locator in Clark, you deal with one: the Clark Development Corporation, it is our regulatory body and it’s pretty easy, it’s all automated. We have a system like in the private sector where you have account officers.
If you’re a big locator, you’ve got a dedicated account officer that takes care of everything you need. If you need to renew your permit, you need to pay this or that, there’s someone who’s dedicated to you and you just deal with them. It’s all online, and it’s easy.
I think that’s the beauty of our set-up. Especially in Metro Manila, you’re going to travel from one office to another, you may have to go to, like, 20 different offices and transact. We’ve been able to attract really good brands to come to Clark, and we’re constantly improv- ing the system here.
P+P: Do you see yourself making NCC your own place of work and residence for the rest of your working life?
VBD: I am Kapampangan.
P+P: You speak Pampango?
VBD: Yes, I do.
P+P: Do you cook?
VBD: Well, I don’t know about that. I try. Are you a Kapampangan ba, Apa?
P+P: No, not at all. I’m just a huge admirer of Kapampangan food. You’re going to make NCC your home?
VBD: I live here. I moved here in 2018. And I have no plans, even after this stint here in BCDA and with the government, I have zero plans of going back to Manila. No way I will be going back to Manila. The quality of life is something else. I’m not going back.
P+P: Your kids go to school there and everything?
VBD: Yeah, my daughter goes to Singapore School. They have a branch here. It’s the same school near Mall of Asia, they have a branch here, where my daughter goes.
P+P: Thank you very much for your time, and good luck.