PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday said he wants to develop a former US military air base south of the capital into an “alternate area” for growth.

The President inspected an P8.42-billion road project that will connect Clark International Airport to New Clark City, which is being groomed to become the country’s first smart city.

The 20-kilometer road is part of the government’s plan “to propel Clark as an alternate growth area,” he said in a speech after the inspection.

“It aims to enlarge Clark’s profile in the global investment map.”

The project, which includes a 900-meter bridge over the Sacobia River in the town of Bamban in Tarlac province, also seeks to enhance connectivity and trade between the central and northern parts of Luzon.

Mr. Marcos touted the modernization program for Clark International Airport and the construction of a rail linking it to Metro Manila.

“We are also building a Clark physical capital,” he said. “We are upskilling the required human capital that will run businesses and will drive prosperity.”

“Clark can now host a wide range of economic activities including innovation labs, creative workshops, manufacturing concerns, leisure complexes and a cyber-corridor,” Mr. Marcos said, adding that the government expects “higher visitor traffic” in return.

The 9,450-hectare New Clark City project is under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). It was proposed by the Aquino administration and was pursued by the Duterte government.

The smart city project, whose construction began in 2018, has been hounded by concerns about the displacement of about 65,000 people from a dozen villages, including about 18,000 members of the Aeta tribe.

Clark was transformed into a freeport and special economic zone in 1992 after the Senate rejected the renewal of the lease of the land for US military bases.

“Military lands converted into economic centers are the concrete proof of the prosperity BCDA has unleashed,” Mr. Marcos said in his speech. “There is no better proof of this than Clark.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza