Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 13 May 2015


It is possible to travel by road from Luzon to any point in the larger islands of the Visayas and Mindanao without riding an airplane. It can be done (by road )with the help of roll-on, roll-off — or Ro-Ro — ships.

Land travel trumps air travel in terms of cost and direct routing. People in the Visayas and in Mindanao know this more than those in populous Luzon. Those who come from larger islands of our archipelago ride a bus in their own town and then arrive in Cubao, Quezon City (or from Cubao to their home place).

Though cheap air travel is widely available, substantial savings are earned by those who take the bus. Also, the ride today is more comfortable than in the past. Most of the buses are air-conditioned. As to the commerce in goods, freight trucks that carry fresh vegetables and fruits and other goods move in the same way.

Motorists on leisure and business, likewise, can travel on the same roads. Having one’s vehicle along has its advantages. It allows for great flexibility to the motorist. There are no tight schedules to adhere to. It is possible to stop anywhere on demand to enjoy the scenery or the occasion.

However, traveling by road does not yet bring luxury in terms of accommodations and good hotels. Except in larger towns and cities, one has to lodge in places of less comfort. For the intrepid, the experience oftentimes is worth it. The thrill of discovery, of local color spiced up by pleasant surprises make up for the inconvenience.

Travelling across the country. I have done this kind of travel to the different islands of the country in the course of the last 15 years. Ro-Ro travel starts from southern Luzon to points in the Visayas. The usual route is from the Bicol provinces to the islands of Samar and Leyte. The shortest land routes to the Visayas and Mindanao are through these two islands.

After crossing from Matnog, Sorsogon (in the Bicol region) to Samar, the island is united to Leyte island through the San Juanico bridge. The southernmost tip of Leyte by Ro-Ro leads to Surigao del Norte in Mindanao. From westerm Leyte, a Ro-Ro can take one to Cebu or Bohol on direct routes.

Last year, I took the route to Cebu, then to Negros island where I traversed the cities from Dumaguete to the sugar areas of Occidental Negros until Bacolod, from where I crossed to Panay island (Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz provinces). The town of Caticlan, Aklan is only a small pump boat ride away from Boracay, but the car has to be parked in Caticlan. The Ro-Ro route from Caticlan could go to Batangas or through Mindoro first. The Batangas port is two hours away from home in Quezon City in my case.

An economist telling his tale of travel and study.  Right now, I am writing in Butuan City, having arrived today from Surigao City. In time, I should do a triangle route, driving south to Davao, then General Santos, then Cagayan de Oro.

With the help of national statistics, I can come up with a “macro” view – the big picture – of the economy without leaving my desk. But my travels enable me to observe details directly. Thus, I am able to gain besides a “micro” view, which is essentially the sum of knowledge provided by project visits, talks with the locals, both businessmen and officials, and experience with ordinary people in their own environments.

Travels are my instruments for acquiring a better understanding of the stresses and the problems of the economy. They enable me to amass new and useful information to form ideas about what keeps us going forward or sometimes lurching backward as a nation.

Progress, over time. My travels across the country have given me full appreciation of developments in the country. We might quibble (as I often do because of our unfulfilled potentials) about how slow our progress is when compared with other countries over the same time frame. However, the main picture about our nation is positive. We have been moving forward as an economy.

The amount of public wealth accumulation has increased in the country around the regions. National road networks are longer today and are more durable in construction. The national road system is improving immensely, with appropriate upkeep. The provincial and rural roads are more extensive, even though much needs to improve  in quality, length and network. Most of these roads are built over improving bridges that are contiguous to these roads.

The standard of finish of our national roads has gone up. The network of asphalted roads over cemented road beds, a lot which are properly lined according to international standards, are more in sight across the islands. This is not to say there are no bad segments or relatively poor roads that upgrade. I talk of scale of general improvement.

The ports we use for travel and for commerce are more plentiful, though many suffer from over-congestion. Our island nation is much more connected together than at any time in the past.

The houses that we see on the roadsides have improved in quality of materials. We observe the differences in living styles of families on the roadsides, too. We find hovels of poverty around in some areas that, however, could shock us. In these places, it is as if progress has left entire neighborhoods and families behind.

But overall, I see a nation that is improving in the long term. The quality of the facilities that help people around the country is reasonably rising.

The most inspiring and optimistic sight throughout the country is that of public elementary schools that are sprawled along the country’s highways. Though some are old, they are well painted. They look very dignified as public edifices.

In the summer when I travel on the road, no pupils are in sight. But on the occasions when I travelled during schooldays, the sight of hundreds of pupils going to school or returning home, many in colourful uniforms, is inspiring. The future is almost announced. These are also times when I think of the implications for the need for jobs and more development as they grow up.

Yet, we also experience and observe problems that are tied up with public facilities.