Reimagining Luzon

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

HONOLULU – The last stop of our reporting program here in the United States is the office of the Pacific Forum, a Hawaii-headquartered think tank.

Our group of visiting Filipino journalists met with Pacific Forum executive director Carl Baker and Mark Manantan, director of its Cybersecurity and Critical Technologies.

They talked about a wide range of issues but one of the topics I found especially interesting was their discussion on the proposed economic corridor in Luzon.

The Philippines, US and Japan announced last month their first Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment corridor in the Indo-Pacific, dubbed as the Luzon Economic Corridor. This envisions a more connected Subic Bay, Clark, Manila and Batangas in the Philippines.

Through this corridor, the partners commit to accelerating coordinated investments in high-impact infrastructure projects, including rail; ports modernization; clean energy and semiconductor supply chains and deployments; agribusiness and civilian port upgrades at Subic Bay.


Baker said the Luzon corridor is indeed a good opportunity that would support growth in the region because of the infrastructure and tech industries that would be built as part of the plan to make Luzon a semiconductor hub in the Indo-Pacific region.

“If you’re going to start building semiconductor plants where you’re doing precision electronics, you really need a clean energy supply. And you need real infrastructure. You need airports and you need power. You need seaports that are capable of moving things on and off the island. And I think that that’s what the economic corridor can do. It can build some of that basic infrastructure and start developing the high-tech industries,” Baker said.

Rail will also go with this planned economic corridor, he added.

“Certainly, the Japanese have an interest in doing that,” Baker said, noting that Japan’s expertise in building infrastructure is a big plus for the Philippines.

The Japan-backed key infrastructure project in the Philippines, the much-awaited North South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project, is one such infrastructure project that would be crucial for this economic corridor, as I’ve written about several times in the past.

The 147-kilometer line will connect Calamba City in the South and the New Clark City in Tarlac and Pampanga.

No doubt, the rail project and the country’s first-ever Metro Manila Subway Project, also to be funded by Japan, will be lasting symbols of the partnership of the two countries.

Rail revolution

Actually, even before investments through this Luzon corridor materialize, Japan’s funding assistance for the country’s transportation sector already reached P1.5 trillion.

The funding will go to the NSCR project and to the Subway, plus the LRT-1 Cavite extension, the extension of LRT 2 to Cogeo in Antipolo and the MRT 3 rehabilitation project.

It’s quite a rail revolution that Japan is funding and this would certainly bode well for the Philippines and for the commuting public.

The Pacific Forum’s Baker also highlighted the importance of airports and seaports in the Luzon corridor. Actually, the Clark International Airport has so much room to grow because it is still very much underutilized.

And then there’s tycoon Ramon Ang’s planned New Manila International Airport in Bulacan.

Part of the plan is to include train connections in these airports.

The subway will have connecting points with the NSCR and its airport express service that will use high-speed trains going to and from the Clark International Airport, according to the projects’ blueprints.

What this means for travelers – Filipinos and visitors alike – is convenience. One can land in Clark and take a connecting flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by taking NSCR’s airport express.

This also means that multiple airports in the Philippines will complement each other, similar to Japan’s Narita and Haneda airports. Narita hosts most of the international flights, while Haneda services regional and domestic flights, although its share of international flights is growing.

Here in the US, I personally experienced the convenience of taking the trains.

From Washington DC, for instance, we took the Amtrak train to New York which was the second leg of our Friends, Partners, Allies reporting program, an initiative funded by the US embassy in Manila and organized with partners CRDF Global, Global Ties San Francisco and the Pacific Forum.

Some Filipino-Americans working in Washington and even politicians and bureaucrats working in the US seat of power take the city trains between work and home, instead of cars to avoid rush hour traffic in DC.

In New York, a childhood friend and I managed to squeeze in an impromptu dinner after she took the train from New Jersey.

The NSCR and the subway, once up and running, could provide this kind of connectivity we enjoy in other countries. These projects would bring together people, goods and services across Luzon.

Trains are certainly a convenient option in our country that has long relied on cars and public buses.

Unlocking Luzon’s potential

This much-touted Luzon corridor, complemented with efficient trains, will surely unlock the region’s economic potential.

There are other equally critical infrastructure that we need to build in this corridor, as Pacific Forum’s Manantan said. These include clean energy and water.

Once these infrastructure projects are in place, it is easier to re-imagine a better and more vibrant Luzon economic corridor.

With fingers crossed, I hope that these airports and trains don’t get derailed by corruption and red tape.

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Email:[email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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