By Vincent Mariel P. Galang

AN URBAN planner wants to transform Mindanao into the “front door” of the Philippines, beginning with the development of the Davao Region.

“We would like to change the paradigm of Mindanao as backdoor to the Philippines. We would like to make as a front door to the Philippines,” Felino A. Palafox, Jr. urban planner and founder and principal architect of Palafox Associates, told BusinessWorld in an interview.

The Makati-based urban planning firm was tapped to craft the Metro Davao Urban Plan. With the plan, it is hoped that Davao will avoid the pitfalls of rapid urban development that Metro Manila faced such as congestion, heavy traffic and pollution.

“It’s about time we help our country, which we’ve been doing … Number one is to develop the provinces…. We are identifying urban growth centers outside Metro Manila as counter magnets to Metro Manila,” he said.

“Mindanao has great opportunities for it, medyo napabayaan (it was neglected), so Davao can take the lead as pace setter. Set the pace of development in Mindanao,” he added.

The Metro Davao Urban Plan is a Mindanao Development Authority-funded project that aims to develop cities and municipalities in the Davao Region. It also part of the Mindanao 2020 Peace and Development Framework Plan.

Mr. Palafox said that the masterplan has been completed, and is now being implemented. The project covers eight local government units (LGU). Some of the target growth centers include the municipalities of Carmen and Sta. Cruz, as well as Tagum City, Panabo City, Island Garden City of Samal, and Digos City.

The masterplan has combined all the best practices in the world and took into consideration the lessons learned in Metro Manila.

“We took also the existing plans of the different LGUs, and we integrated and improved it… All the best practices in the world in-implement namin doon (were implemented there) and learn the mistakes of Metro Manila,” he explained.

One of the features of the masterplan is its focus on public transportation rather than on private transportation. Mr. Palafox also said walkability and “bike-ability” features were also integrated.

It also targets to develop the region’s seaports, including the Davao Gulf.

“The Davao Gulf, it can even be the biggest harbor in the Philippines, and also because it’s fronting Celebes Sea. It’s a very important navigational route connecting the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean,” he explained.

There is also focus on landscaping to balance the development of the Davao region with maintaining a healthy environment.