A dream come true

Speech of Sen. Franklin M. Drilon during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project in Calinog, Iloilo on Feb 27, 2019.

SINCE 2011, we have been working to transform Iloilo from a province of diminishing economic appeal, to an attractive tourism and investment destination.

We cleaned and rehabilitated the dying Iloilo River. We removed squatting commercial establishments. We resettled the informal settlers in 1,000 low-cost housing units. We built an Esplanade, now a prime tourist destination.

We widened a four lane Diversion Road into a ten-lane 15 Km Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue, and constructed a four-lane President Corazon Aquino Circumferential Road in the Municipality of Pavia.

As they say, build and they will come. Now, these two major road networks are the sites of hundreds of commercial and industrial establishments.

We built the Iloilo Convention Center, now a prime convention destination, and an anchor in the world-class development of Megaworld.

Recently, we launched the revival of the rich cultural heritage of Iloilo, restoring old structures to their original grandeur. Three new museums were put up in the last 12 months. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manila Symphony Orchestra, the Philippine Madrigal Singers and pianist Cecile Licad had concerts here in Iloilo.

Prior to 2011, we worked on the construction of the Iloilo International Airport, funded by an 80 million US dollar JICA ODA loan from Japan.

All these improvements made Iloilo a model of urban development in the country.

As a result, Western Visayas, for the past five years, had attained one of the highest Gross Regional Domestic Product growth rates. The region’s gross domestic product, the fifth largest in the country, grew by nine point four percent (9.4%) in 2015, eight point four percent (8.4%) in 2016, and ten point four (10.4%) in 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Notwithstanding the impressive regional GDP growth, the Agricultural Sector in Region 6 declined dramatically. From an impressive seventeen point nine percent (17.9%) growth in 2011, the agriculture sector had a negative growth rate of one point eight percent (1.8%) in 2015 and further contracted by a negative one-half percent (0.5%) in 2016.

This is very alarming, because forty percent (40%) of the labor force in the region is engaged in agriculture and fisheries.

It is in that context that today, we see the fulfillment of the impossible dream of the Ilonggos: the groundbreaking ceremony to signal the start of the construction of the eleven point two (11.2) billion pesos Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project.

This project is the largest water reservoir that will be constructed outside Luzon, and a flagship project of the National Irrigation Authority in the Visayas.

This project is the biggest single public infrastructure project in the history of Iloilo.

I am proud to have played a role in making this project possible.

I recall that it was around 2009 that I and Dr. Alfonso Uy, a prominent civic and business leader in Iloilo, started this dream of looking for funds to commence Phase II of the Jalaur River Multi Purpose Project, authorized under RA 2651 passed in 1960, or almost half a century ago.

In April 2011, I went to Seoul, Korea, to personally work on the funding of this multi-purpose dam. Thankfully, the Korean government found merit in our government’s request, and extended, through the Export-Import Bank’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund, a loan for two hundred eight million US dollar ($208 million) under its Official Development Assistance program.

This is the biggest loan extended by the Korean government for a single project, worldwide. The loan agreement, executed in 2012, carried an interest rate of one fifteenth of one percent (0.015%). Let me repeat that for emphasis. I am not aware of any other ODA loan of the same interest rate.

Let me thank the Korean government, through His Excellency, Ambassador Moon, represented here by Ms Sunyoung Kim, the Korean Eximbank represented by its Senior Executive Director, Mr. Deog Young Shin, for this assistance to the Philippine agriculture sector.

With deep appreciation, I acknowledge the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to adopt, support and continue with this project, which we started in 2011.

This project did not come easy.

Negotiating with the Korean government was the easy part.

But it took blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today. Some parties, for their own agenda, tried to stop this project.

For two years, I had to personally defend, together with the National Irrigation Authority, the construction of this Project in a petition for a Writ of KALIKASAN in the Court of Appeals.

We had to overcome countless other roadblocks, too many to enumerate, to get here today.

But all of these difficulties I have put behind me.

I just look forward to September of 2022, when we complete this project, and improve the lives of our 25,000 farmers, provide 17,000 jobs during its construction in the next three years, double our rice production to nearly 300,000 metric tons per year, irrigate 32,000 hectares in 22 municipalities and two cities in Iloilo, improve the average yield of our farmlands to 5.2 metric tons per hectare, provide 86,400 cubic meters of potable water daily, and generate 6.6 MW of hydro electric power.

With the completion of this project in September 2022, we are certain that the province of Iloilo will become a model of rural development, just as Iloilo City today is a model of urban development.

If we all unite and work together to attain these goals, we can all say that if we fulfilled our dreams of a better and progressive Iloilo, it is because we all did our share.