Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Feisty Filipino Province Rivals Manila as New Business Frontier

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Feisty Filipino Province Rivals Manila as New Business Frontier

Article excerpt

CEBU Governor Emilio "Lito" Osmena says his maverick ways have spurred his island's thriving economy.

He hopes his track record in this central Philippine province will catapult him onto the national stage in the 1992 elections.

Osmena and his cousin, Cebu City Mayor Tomas "Tommy" Osmena are among a feisty new breed of regional leaders who are riding a populist wave against the traditional politics of big-monied bosses and strong-arm landlords with private armies.

Western and Philippine analysts give provincial reformers little chance of overthrowing the traditional politicians from the main island of Luzon. "Most people are resigned to the fact that we'll still get a lemon in 1992," says Bernardo Villegas of the Center for Research and Communication in Manila.

Still, diplomats and Philippine observers say administrators like Lito Osmena could tap anti-establishment resentment and become kingmakers next year.

"Osmena could be a spoiler in 1992," says a Western diplomat. "The Aquino government has only paid lip service to the regional leaders. They are taking matters in their own hands and taking a defiant stance."

Cebu, a densely populated island about 350 miles south of Manila, has long prided itself on independence and fast-dealing. Left with little productive land after massive deforestation, the 2.5 million Cebuanos, including a large core of entrepreneurial ethnic Chinese, have thrived on labor-intensive processing industries and a booming under- ground economy of smuggling, marijuana growing, and rattan furniture and garment production by small contractors.

Today Cebu is the Philippines second largest commercial center after Manila and a favorite of tax dodgers and foreign investors. It boasts a good port, international airport, export processing zone, and a tourist industry that has thrived by distancing itself from turbulent Manila.

This regional economic powerhouse grew at 20 percent in 1988 and in double-digits since then, despite a world-wide recession and a typhoon that lashed the island last year, economic observers say. …

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