As Metro Manila struggles with the country’s continued economic growth, developments of another kind are happening in Pampanga. As one of the areas included in the government’s massive Build, Build, Build infrastructure program, the culinary capital of the Philippines is having a turn at the spotlight.

Billions of pesos from the public and private sectors are surging into the Clark Freeport area, from the construction of additional property estates, to the various attractions, recreational venues, and local businesses that have popped up in anticipation of the Clark International Airport’s expansion.

The Clark International Airport New Terminal Building had begun construction in the fourth quarter of 2017 and is slated for completion in 2020. The goal of the project, under the government’s infrastructure plan, is to provide a new mass transport system to help solve congestion in the country’s main urban centers, and create interconnectivity in the whole archipelago. Other infrastructure projects in the area include the Manila-Clark Railway and the Subic-Clark Railway.

New Clark City, a planned community in Capas, Tarlac, is rising up to be a national cultural beacon and could become a key destination in the ASEAN region, as the main host of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Also one of the big ticket projects of the Build, Build, Build program, New Clark City upon completion will be the country’s first smart, green and disaster-resilient city. It will feature a mixed use area consisting of residential, commercial, agro-industrial, educational institutions, and information technology developments.

Key infrastructure developments in Clark are boosting Central Luzon’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), the government body in charge of the area’s development, Central Luzon’s economic output grew to 9.3% in 2017, almost 3% higher than the country’s GDP of 6.7% for the same year.

Foreign investors are looking in, and international names like the Marriott Hotel, Sunvalley Hilton, and Aqua Planet are shaping the future landscape of Clark Freeport.

According to a statement by BCDA, Central Luzon business chambers are attributing the growth to the high-impact projects like New Clark City, the Clark International Airport, the Manila-Clark Railway and the Subic-Clark Railway.

“I commend the Duterte administration for making Clark a part of the country’s economic strategy as the region has been experiencing an influx of new businesses and investments for the past five years,” Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. President Jess Nicdao said.

Mr. Nicdao also noted the huge potential of Clark International Airport as a major gateway with the passenger capacity expected to increase to 8 million a year upon completion of the new terminal building.

“Passengers coming from north of Metro Manila are using the airport as it is more convenient compared to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport,” Mr. Nicdao said.

Elsewhere in Pampanga, local developers are rushing to keep up with the demand for new properties located in the river province. Pampanga’s potential as a national economic powerhouse is creating a demand for residential and commercial spaces that real estate developers like Filinvest, SMDC, and Megaworld are loathe to pass up.

Among them, properties like Ayala Land’s Alviera, a 1,125-hectare integrated township located in the municipality of Porac; Century Properties’ The Resort Residences at Azure North, a 8-hectare mixed-use development in line with its Azure Urban Resort concept in Parañaque; Vista Land’s Camella Homes project, which continues to build communities throughout the province, are giving Filipinos the incentive to leave the hectic life of Metro Manila behind in favor of Pampanga’s distinctive allure.

Historically, Pampanga has always been an important province to the country. During the Spanish regime, it was one of the richest Philippine provinces, functioning as a trading hub for Manila and its surrounding region. Kapampangan agricultural, fishery and forestry products as well as on the supply of skilled workers were abundant. It also played a key role for the Americans during their occupation, and even served as a critical base of operations during the second world war.

A province of rich history and culture, Pampanga still holds the prestige as home to some of the Philippines’ most prominent people. From presidents like Diosdado Macapagal, and his daughter, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to artists like acclaimed movie director Brillante Mendoza and esteemed singer Lea Salonga, the province has given the Philippines so much of its identity. Despite all this, as more attention is given to it and the more it grows as a center of economic activity, clearly Pampanga can still offer much more. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran