Cebu as APEC 2015 host

In the very near future, the APEC Organizing Council should be announcing who among the 10 bidders will be named APEC's official host city in 2015. So far, those who have submitted formal bids are Metro Manila, Cebu, Bacolod, Albay, Iloilo, Clark, Subic, Davao, Boracay and Tagaytay.

It will be a game-changer for the winning city. For them, a windfall of economic benefits will follow, not the least of which is the fast-tracking of their infrastructure development and the opportunity to showcase whatever investment and trade opportunities are on offer before thousands of decision makers. Hosting a high profile eco-political event like this will establish them as an international business hub. And along with this comes a deluge of investments. Such has been the experience of former host cities like Hanoi, Yokohama, Lima and, recently, Vladivostok.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to the impassioned presentations of a number of bidding cities. Each came with their A-game and presented a compelling case as to why they deserve to be chosen. But for me, the obvious choice is Cebu.

Why Cebu?

Cebu has a clear vision of what they want to be by the year 2050. They've learned from the experiences of Manila and are now in close cooperation with their sister city, Yokohama, for a massive urban renewal plan. JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) has recently sponsored a comprehensive study that also doubles as Cebu's blueprint for urban development. It tackles such issues as infrastructure expansion, educational advancement, environmental preservation, urban renewal, basic services, and metropolitan management, among others. Done right, all these should work in confluence to make Cebu an ideal city to live and work in. It is also designed to transform Cebu into a vibrant, competitive metropolis, whose economy is built on manufacturing, tourism and knowledge-based services.

Cebu's public and private sectors have thrown their full support behind the JICA-sponsored plan, something they've dubbed ''Mega Cebu 2050.'' Recently, all of Cebu's 13 municipalities, along with their respective private sector representatives, have organized a super-body called the Metro Cebu Development and Coordinating Board (MCDBC). The MCDBC's mandate is to spearhead all initiatives relating to the urban renewal plan. As I write this, certain aspects of the master plan are already in motion.

One of the remarkable aspects of the master plan is that each municipality is committed to specialize in certain industries for which they have a natural competence in. For instance, Cebu City will develop itself into a center for Information Technology, while Talisay will be the hub for aquaculture and marine-related industries. Danao and Compostela will be the center for food production, while Lapu-Lapu will be the pivot point for tourism. San Fernando will specialize in cement production, while Mandaue will focus on education and technology...and the list goes on. Suffice to say that when Mega Cebu 2050 is realized, development will be inclusive and no one will be left behind.

Never before has there been such harmony between all of Cebu's municipalities. Neither has there been such close synergy between the LGUs and the private sector. With this, I reckon Cebu has a real shot at realizing its vision.

No other city, not even Metro Manila, is as advanced as Cebu in as far as its development plans are concerned. So on this basis, I believe the nation should throw its support behind its queen city.

Preparedness

The logistical requirements to host APEC's Economic Leader's Meeting are massive. Apart from the need for a world-class meeting venue, the host city would also have to provide appropriate lodging for 21 heads of state, not to mention hotel rooms for tens of thousands of participants. More importantly, it would have to ensure the highest level of security and ground-level logistics.

Let's face it-the only city that's truly equipped to pull it off right now is Metro Manila. However, Manila is not a feasible choice since it can't afford to put its day-to-day grind on hold just to give way to the week-long summit. The cost to the economy would be too enormous. Not to call a working holiday, however, will only result in traffic gridlocks and security risks. It's a lose-lose situation. So on this score, Metro Manila should be ruled out.

Cebu, on the other hand, is a sprawling city with only 2.5 million residents. It can afford to operate without interruption, even while hosting the Economic Leader's Meeting. Facilities-wise, it is the second most equipped city next to Manila. They have a proper convention center, an inventory of 14,000 hotel rooms, and more than enough points of interest for the delegates to enjoy at after-hours. Sure, the Cebu International Convention Center is too small (it can only accommodate 4,000 people) and is in need of a facelift, but at least the cost to government will not be as great as it would be if it were to build a new convention center from the ground up. In other words, it makes more financial sense to make Cebu the principal host.

It is also worth mentioning that Cebu has an international airport with direct connections to the most number of Asian cities. It is also equipped with parking berths large enough to accommodate 21 wide-bodied aircrafts without interrupting normal operations. Not even NAIA has this capability. We hear that most heads of states fly in using chartered planes. President Obama's delegation alone travels with three back-up jets.

The ability to professionally organize and mount an event of this scale is another important consideration. To Cebu's credit, they have successfully hosted several high-profile events in the past with great success: the ASEAN Summit of 2006, The Ironman Challenge, The Davis Cup, and recently, the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) Conference. Every year, they also host the largest and longest fiesta in the country, the Sinulog Festival, where close to a million people attend.

But the most compelling case for Cebu is that they are two steps ahead of everyone else. They recently organized the APEC Cebu Team, consisting of luminaries from government and the private sector, including Ambassador Frank Benedicto, Dondi Joseph of the Cebu Business Club, and Lilu Alino of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce. As early as now, the APEC Cebu Team is already preparing its Security and Emergency framework, which includes contingency measures for natural disasters, utilities interruptions, terrorist attacks, and medical emergencies. They are also expediting the construction of new roads, and have embarked on a citywide beautification program. They even secured a sponsorship deal with BMW to provide VIP limousines throughout the duration of the summit.

Cebu is serious about APEC. They want it...and they want it bad.

They Deserve The Break

For years, Cebu has grown beyond the national average on the back of a strong culture of entrepreneurship. They have been net contributors to the national kitty, remitting more to the national government than taking from it. So in a sense, not only do they deserve this break, they've earned it.

It's about time government look beyond the confines of Metro Manila for events like this. Manila gets its fair share of attention already, and it's about time we sow seeds of goodwill for other cities who have their acts together.

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