A Smart City is an Informed City: Preliminary Thoughts

A 174-hectare reclamation project, dubbed “Smart City,” has been slated to be constructed along the Dumaguete shoreline. A signature campaign against the plan was slated today, July 11, at 3 PM in front of Bethel. It was planned in haste because the agreement between the LGU and the developer will be signed on Monday, July 12.

The document embedded below is the plea to stop the project, signed by National Scientist Angel Alcala, Silliman President Betty McCann, former Silliman President Ben Malayang III, Enrique Oracion, and biologists Hilconida Calumpong, Rene Abesamis, Janet Estacion, and Robert Guinoo.

For the full text, go here.

For information about the project, go here.

For commentary by lawyer Golda Benjamin to understand the legal nuances, go here.

To sign the Change.org petition, go here.

This is the Smart City plan that was released by the Office of the City Mayor to media last July 8, Thursday — which for me remains an under-reported story that only came out as pubmats in Facebook pages and short news articles in our weekend newspapers.

Did we seriously get the full picture, or kuryente lang? Part of me feels this story is a failure of communication from all concerned — and that we also need to dig deeper, question more, report more comprehensively. Above all, no haste. I feel the urge to do an investigative report, to be honest. [If I have time, I will.]

Dumaguete has an interesting history of public work projects affecting the local economy, going as far back as the Spanish colonial period: we were the ultimate backwater country and so economically depressed .

According to historian T. Valentino Sitoy: “Except for the sugar plantations of the elites in Bais and Tanjay, the provincial economy had long suffered from numbing lethargy since the Spanish regime. In 1904, the industries of Negros Oriental were ‘next to nothing,‘ said Governor Demetrio Larena. The few that existed were small home industries for local consumption, such as the weaving of textiles, fish nets, mats, hats, baskets, and sacks (bayong) for sugar packing. There was some cigar- and cigarette-rolling. But the pillow- and mattress-making, which in Spanish times was a ‘great industry’ exporting 100,000 to 200,000 pillows annually, had now atrophied for lack of demand. The only hopeful new industry was carpentry, for most of the carpenters in the province had been employed in the construction of the first buildings of Silliman Institute, particularly what is now Silliman Hall.”

Sitoy continues: “Moreover, business in Negros Oriental in 1904 was in the hands of foreigners, with 78 stores owned by the Chinese, two by Americans, and two by Spaniards, while only about six little more than sari-sari stores were owned by Filipinos. The Chinese dealt with all sorts of merchandise, including groceries and canned goods, dry goods and textiles, wines and liquors, drugs, medicines, perfumery, etc., and nearly monopolized the buying of local agricultural products, such as copra, corn, sugar, tobacco, abaca hemp, kapok, etc. The American or Spanish stores sold only groceries, beverages, and stationery.”

How people arrived in Dumaguete before 1919
The Escolta [now Perdices Street] in 1913

The economy was so bad … until the pier was built in 1919.

The Dumaguete pier in 1920

Later, Mayor Ramon Teves Pastor set out out to develop the beachfront into what we now know as the Rizal Boulevard. We need perspective, also informed by history.

The Marina with lighthouse in the 1930s

Some well-meaning people, for example, are decrying the “loss” of the Rizal Boulevard because of the “Smart City” development. I totally agree — but I also cannot help but think that the entire Rizal Boulevard was also a public works project carried out by the then town that destroyed the natural beach front, concrete over sand.

Do we need more land and reclamation projects? Nope, we don’t.

(Honestly, there are better projects. Like developing the Banica riverside besides building concrete walls. [If Iloilo can do it with their river, so can we.] And what happened to the Perdices Street development plan circa 2016?)

I think just want perspective. We’re romanticizing a place — which I love! — which probably bedevilled Dumagueteños in the 1920s, and which most certainly dislodged the beachside community, only for richer people to build their “sugar houses” along the new Marina [old name of Rizal Avenue].

The Dumaguete shoreline in 1907
Rizal Boulevard in 1940 with the sugar houses in the background

Interpreter of hamsters. Author of Beautiful Accidents: Stories and Heartbreak & Magic: Stories of Fantasy and Horror