An Eye-Opening Journey to the south.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)

Article excerpt

IF you think traffic jams are unique to the suffering citizens of Metro Manila, you have another guess coming. Last November 13, on a lecturing trip to Cagayan de Oro City, I thought I was back in Makati or Ortigas on a Friday and pay-day when I got caught in a bumper-to-bumper traffic in the downtown area of this golden city of Northern Mindanao. The next day, the traffic was even worse on the road to the airport as Shoemart inaugurated its sprawling mall in the real estate development of the ICCP group of my friend Guilly Luchangco. Thousands of eager shoppers trouped to the mall.

The urban consumer market of Cagayan de Oro is part of the reason why the Philippines is growing at more than 4 percent. While some of us constantly harp on the 40% of the population who are too poor to be consumers of the goods and services our businesses produce, we tend to forget that there are 48 million Filipinos who earn enough to be able to purchase all types of consumer goods and services. That's a consuming population larger than the entire populations of countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Now that the domestic market of each Asian country is becoming its own engine of growth, we have to constantly rack our brains about how to cultivate the domestic market for our local businesses. We have to follow the examples of such food giants as San Miguel Corporation, Consolidated Foods, Alaska Corporation, Nestle, Century Canning and Southeast Asia Food, among others, that are growing their sales at fairly high rates by just selling primarily to these 48 million Filipino consumers. They are benefitting from a large population.

My trip to Cagayan de Oro was quite an educational experience. I left Manila on the first PAL flight at 5:10 a.m. which departed on time. I was met at the airport by Robert Pizarro, manager of the Xavier Estate, a very modern residential subdivision close to the airport. I traveled in the same plane with Dr. Walter and Anabelle Brown, partners of the Jesuits in developing this most successful real estate project in the premier city of Northern Mindanao.

After a quick breakfast in the posh Xavier Sports and Country Club - popular venue for multitudinous seminars and conferences that can gather as many as one thousand delegates - I gave an economic briefing to about forty top businessmen of Cagayan de Oro and neighboring towns on business prospects for the coming years. I especially encouraged them about the role of their region in being the food basket for the Philippines and the East Asian region. Already, their neighboring province of Bukidnon is exporting bananas and pineapples to China. It is also the region that has become the most productive grower of sugarcane in the whole country. Nowonder, despite the financial woes of the large industries of Iligan City, their consumer market is still attractive enough for the likes of retailing giants like Shoemart and Robinsons.

After the business briefing and quick lunch, I rushed to the Cha-Li Beach Resort for the 26th Annual Convention of the Philippine Association of Religious Treasurers. There I briefed more than one hundred nuns and priests who are the financial officers of Catholic schools and other apostolic works from all over the country. These religious CFOs were trying to understand better the global, regional and national events that affect their work as financial officers. There were the usual concerns about interest rate and foreign exchange rate movements, inflation, and wages. They came from all over the Philippines. For some of them, it was the first trip to Cagayan de Oro.

It dawned on me that there are millions of Filipinos like these nuns and priests who have not yet seen Cagayan de Oro and its beautiful environs of Bukidnon, Malaybalay, and other resorts like Cha-Li Beach and the Xavier Sports and Country Club. …