GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Scenes of people scampering to the streets for safety while images of fallen debris from buildings and a huge blaze gutting down a popular shopping mall here following a powerful quake in October will always be remembered when looking back at the year 2019.
The past 12 months, especially the latter part, was arguably among the most challenging period in the city’s history, with a series of earthquakes disrupting economic activities, government transactions, and the normal lives of residents.
There was also the dry spell brought by a weak El Niño wreaking havoc on the city’s farm areas in the early part of the year, aside from investment scams and persistent security threats.
But behind these was a city that displayed extraordinary resilience, managing to exceed expectations and continually making strides in the economic front.
The property boom that marked the city’s growth these past years has continued, complemented by major public infrastructure projects that could further boost the city’s standing as an emerging metropolis.
The city’s tuna industry, bannered by six tuna canneries and a range of ancillary industries, remained as the country’s leader in production and exports, cementing the area’s position as the country’s tuna capital.
The creation of a separate lone congressional district for the city and the midterm elections last May added another boost to the local economy.
The series of earthquakes that jolted the city and other parts of Mindanao since Oct. 16, with the highest measured at magnitude 6.9 and felt at as high as Intensity 6 in the area, affected both business activities and local government operations.
The Oct. 16 quake triggered a major fire at the Gaisano Mall here, gutting down about 90 percent of the structure. It left a damage of over PHP2 billion and displaced more than 1,500 workers.
Four more major tremors have since hit the city but these so far resulted to only minor damage to government and private structures.
As early as January, the city has become the center of attention due to the emergence of investment scams that victimized thousands of residents.
At least 19 illegal investment schemes have been documented to have scammed residents here and the neighboring areas through promised interest payouts of 30 to 400 percent a month. Investors reportedly lost over PHP2.45 billion from these scams.
Topping the list was the estimated PHP1.9 billion Pulis Paluwagan Movement or PPM illegal investment scheme that rocked the Police Regional Office-12.
PPM, which allegedly operated for some time early this year inside the city police office headquarters here, was reported to have scammed thousands of police personnel from parts of Soccsksargen.
Thousands were also victimized by the investment schemes of Alabel-Maasim Credit Cooperative or Alamcco and the Kapa Community Ministry International Inc. Both have shut down following enforcement operations last June ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
As in the previous years, City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the city’s manufacturing and retail sectors carried anew the local economy while the services and fishing sectors logged positive growths as well this year.
“So far, so good. Despite the challenges, we were able to sustain our momentum and made substantial gains this year,” he said in an interview.
The tuna industry, which generated export receipts of around PHP22 billion in 2018, is expected to meet anew its targets this year.
The production of fresh, chilled and processed tuna products continued to grow, complementing the expansions within the industry, which now directly employs some 27,290 people and provides livelihood to 109,160 others through various secondary activities.
Early this year, the national government facilitated the signing of a memorandum of agreement between Century Pacific Food Inc., which operates a tuna cannery here, and Russian partners, Magnit Food Retail Chain and LLC Dalpromryba, to open new markets in Russia for various food products, including tuna.
Leonard Flores, chief of the City Economic Management and Cooperative Development Office (CEMCDO), said the retail sector came out strong this year, with expansions in the city’s growth centers.
He said proof of that is the over 11,000-strong registered micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) within the city’s 26 barangays.
“Our MSMEs have continued to grow. There were a number of new stores, especially convenience store chains, that opened in our communities,” Flores said.
He said about 60 percent of Region 12 or Soccsksargen’s top enterprises are based in the city, which now caters to almost a million people on a daily basis due to the increased business activities.
Flores said the estimated gross sales in the city this year has reached PHP140 billion, increasing by about 15 percent from 2018.
Headlining the real estate projects was a multimillion condominium project, the city’s first, of Vista Land and Lifescapes Inc. in a 3.3-hectare property along the Diversion Road in Barangay Katangawan.
Dubbed Fortino COHO, the company already started the pre-selling early this year of the condominium units in several towers that will feature 12 to 15 floors.
This year, the University of Santo Tomas started in full swing the development of its eight-hectare campus in Barangay Ligaya. The project’s first phase, which is undertaken by being undertaken by contractor AIMM Builder and Construction Supply, is due for completion by 2021.
The initial development included site grading, road works and utilities, buildings and laboratories for the planned programs in health and sciences, business and accountancy, arts and humanities, engineering and technology, tourism and hospitality management, pharmacy and pharmaceutical science.
The General Santos Doctors Hospital Inc. held the groundbreaking early this month for its modern cancer center, the second for the city.
The eight-story Sarangani Bay Specialist Medical Center, the first high-rise project approved by the city government, is almost complete and is expected to finally open early next year.
Flores said they expect that these projects will open more opportunities for local medical practitioners and those from other areas, especially experts in major fields, to relocate in the city.
“Those needing quality medical services could later look at GenSan as an alternative destination,” he said.
Top convention venue
Aside from these, Flores said several budget hotels, pension houses and inns also opened this year while existing establishments poured in additional investment for expansion, upgrading and renovation.
“This year, we have additional accommodation facilities that enrolled in the Red Doorz brand. These are budget hotels where you can avail of cheap but quality accommodation and services,” he said.
He said this will help further boost the city’s efforts to become a top venue for conferences and conventions outside of Metro Manila.
The city has breached the 900-mark for local, regional, national and international events hosted in the last three years, he said.
Boosting the city’s capability as a top destination for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) is the opening in Barangay Baluan of the area’s first-ever Halal-friendly convention center.
New air routes
Flores said they complemented these by aggressively pushing this year for the development and opening of new air routes for the city.
The city government has signed sisterhood agreements with the cities of Mabalacat, Angeles, and San Fernando in Pampanga as well as partnerships with their chambers of commerce and tourism associations to drum up support for the opening of direct flights between the city and Clark airports.
Flores said they are hoping that it will materialize in the first quarter 2020, with Air Asia and Cebu Pacific serving the route.
“We already received a commitment from Air Asia for an evening flight from Manila next year, around 6 to 10 p.m., so we can host more international events,” he said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines has been also helping the city airport comply with the requirements for the hosting of international flights while the local government has already initiated studies for direct flights to Hong Kong and Singapore, he added. (PNA)