The birth of a new city-in-the-making

CALAX opens way for Silang, Cavite’s cityhood

ONGOING infrastructure developments have constantly brought changes and paved the way for economic progress in the country, particularly in rural areas where public works and highways are highly needed to help fast track recovery from the ensuing health crisis.

With the imminent post-Covid era amid the improving pandemic situation nationwide at present, big-ticket initiatives like the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) are pivotal to continuously transform and drive the growth of its covered localities and nearby places given the relaxed mobility restrictions and resumption of trade and commerce after more than two years that most parts, if not the entire Philippines, have been locked down.

This P35.7-billion expressway is a public-private partnership (PPP) project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and MPCALA Holdings Inc. (MHI), a subsidiary of Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC), the toll road development arm of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC).

Forming part of the “Build, Build, Build” program of the previous administration, this 45-kilometer controlled-access tollway has been partially operational since July 2019.

“The opening of Calax has been a big help to us,” Silang, Cavite Mayor Kevin Anarna told reporters in mixed Filipino and English during an interview at his office in their newly built Municipal Hall in Barangay Biga on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.

Among the benefits their first-class municipality has gained from it are efficient transport facilities, traffic decongestion, and increased competitiveness, which are very crucial for its continued development and cityhood by 2025, according to him.

Reduced traffic congestion

THOUSANDS of motorists going to and from south of Luzon via CALAX daily experience a consistently smooth commute, with more standing to benefit once the soon-to-open Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange becomes operational.

This fifth of the eight segments of the tolled highway spans 3.9 km, with a 2×2-lane expressway from Silang East Interchange to Aguinaldo Highway in Cavite. Upon completion, this will serve more motorists, including the 298,000 Silangeños, given the reduced traffic situation.

Current average daily traffic is 33,000 from Mamplasan to Silang Ease interchange. This is expected to increase to 40,000 when the Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange finally opens, thus, easing the usual bottleneck along the 41-km Aguinaldo Highway—the busiest main thoroughfare in Cavite—not to mention Governor’s Drive and Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Road.

With construction works now under way, the local chief executive admitted that traffic in their area is heavy, especially on weekends.

“As of now, we don’t allow six-wheeler trucks that make our town as a pass road going to Tagaytay, Amadeo or Alfonso,” he said, while specifically citing the communities of Maguyam, Kaong and Tibig as shortcut routes.

“Due to different constructions, we closed them for the meantime for six-wheeler trucks and up to help lessen the volume of traffic.”

Hopeful of its rapid completion, Anarna sees that the interchange will ease the traffic, thereby encouraging more people not only to pass by their municipality to neighboring towns and cities, but also to visit and see its natural wonders, tourist spots and other attractions.

Fast transport of goods

SPANNING at 15,641 hectares, Silang is Cavite’s second largest locality. With more than half or 60 percent of its land area being arable, its economy still depends on agriculture.

Among its local produce, coffee remains to be a top agricultural product—thanks largely to its elevation of more than 1,000 feet above sea level conducive to growing robusta and excelsa beans.

Gourmet Farms, the country’s largest trader of coffee, keeps on operating here. Over time, however, Anarna, whose family used to own the largest coffee mill in Silang, revealed that the number of local coffee farmers has diminished.

Nevertheless, many are venturing to planting agar wood. Its branch, known for its fragrant scent, is used as a raw material for perfumes. Because its tree could be sold at around half-a-million pesos, most of his constituents are now growing this plant, he said.

“With CALAX, these and our other goods are now easily transported to Metro Manila and other areas,” the mayor said.

Investment boom

EVEN before the pandemic, there’s no stopping Silang from becoming an emerging hub for various industries and businesses, such as manufacturing, real estate, travel and leisure, to name a few.

In fact, it is home to light industrial parks, with the existing one along Maguyam town road, and soon in Sabutan area (10 hectares) and East-West Road (18 hectares). Per the local chief executive, business locators, mostly manufacturing companies, are starting to invest in the upcoming processing zones.

He said “since the opening of CALAX, potential investors are coming in.”

Other entities have also entered Silang, notably, Alfamart, which opened its largest distribution center in the country six months ago. Currently, logistics company DHL is also applying to set up its facility here.

Adding to the Villar family-owned AllHome Premier, major retail and mall operators are setting up their businesses in this part of Cavite.

Local residents will see the rise of Walter Mart next year. The Sy-led SM group plans to acquire an 8-hectare land near the Silang exit to put up a mall.

“Apart from businesses brought in by our new roads, infrastructure [projects like CALAX also] generate jobs. Also, they create buying power for our constituents. Because of their patronage, even small businesses like sari-sari stores make profits. So there’s a domino effect. In return, the economy revolves, generating additional income and employment,” Anarna explained.

As Silang becomes more attractive to businesses due to such public works, it also has captured the interest of potential investors in real estate as property values there have begun to appreciate.

For instance, the mayor noted that in Westgrove, the price of land has almost quadrupled from P13,000 per square meter in 2017 to P50,000 per sqm at present. At Riviera Golf Course near the Aguinaldo Exit, on the other hand, the cost of shares has increased sevenfold from P100,000 apiece in 2020 to P750,000 each today.

Because of this, key real-estate players have also penetrated this market, with Cathay Land being heavily invested here with 1,300 hectares for its development projects, as well as Ayala Land.

Economic growth driver, cityhood-enabler

THE influx of businesses, apparently due to strategic developments of Silang with the CALAX project, has bolstered its economy.

On average, the municipality’s annual revenue is pegged at around P300 million. With the new administration, under the leadership of Anarna, it has already generated more than half of yearly overall taxes it regular makes.

“Compared to last September, our revenue collection is more than P200 million already. We can really do P500 million,” the mayor said. “But I told our department heads, we can hit our target of P600 million by end of this year since we are now business-friendly.”

Confident to achieve their 2022 revenue target, he is certain to also realize their dream to become a full-fledged city since they have not failed to surpass the P200 million annual average income requirement for such status, not to mention the other metrics, including the population and land area.

The province has a plan for such goal for Silang, with support from Governor Jonvic Remulla, who is certain on its realization in the next three to six years.

“Even before the opening of CALAX, we are already qualified for cityhood. But still, it will be a big factor once the CALAX is fully operational because our economy will grow. So we will have more advantage to become a city,” Anarna pointed out.

On ROW issue

CALAX is a work in progress. At present, its operational segment spans 14.24 kilometers with interchanges at Greenfield-Mamplasan, Laguna Technopark, Laguna Boulevard, Santa Rosa-Tagaytay, and Silang East. Other interchanges, namely, Open Canal, Governor’s Drive and Kawit, are targeted to be completed by 2023.

Upon completion of its entirety, it will connect to the Manila-Cavite Expressway (Cavitex) in Kawit, Cavite.

Given the manifold gains this project has for their municipality, he expressed support to MHI’s initiative, while urging the DPWH and private land owners to address the right-of-way (ROW) issue hounding the Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange to speed up its completion.

The target opening date of this subsection of the highway has been moved several times, with the latest target completion—December of 2022—again uncertain.

The undelivered ROW of about 450 meters of land owned by a private corporation prevents the progress of continuous works, including construction of drainage and bridge, excavation and roadway earthworks, and installation of fence and coco net. To date, 64 percent of this segment has been completed.

“We are very willing to help MPCALA and the national government to fast-track the opening of the CALAX Silang (Aguinaldo) Interchange,” the local chief executive assured.

Upon learning that it built horseracing structures on the property sans the necessary permits from the government, the municipality’s inspection team deployed there several times to check the area. They even got the necessary requirements for the landowner that is hampering its completion.

“We informed them that other payments are under-valued. So we check what legal remedies we can do,” Anarna said, adding that prior to giving “legal pressure,” they met and brought the owner to beautiful spots and restaurants in Silang to show what the local government is losing in terms of tourism.

“Our sceneries are beautiful, and also the tourist attractions. Because that portion is unfinished yet due to right-of-way concerns, they are not being developed and visited well. Beyond that, our development is hampered due to rough inner roads, which can only be repaired once the Aguinaldo exit is done,” he added.

The local government unit is now planning to set up another meeting with the owner of the land to discuss the ROW issues. The mayor said, “Maybe, we can get a compromise agreement before the end of the year.”

Such is very important to expedite the project’s completion, hopefully, in the first quarter of 2023, in preparation for the upcoming two international horticulture events to be hosted by Silang in January and April next year.

“We want to be known as the ‘Botanical Garden of the Philippines,’” Anarna stressed, while expressing confidence of attaining this goal with further developments in the pipeline.

For 2023, Silang’s budget is P1.4 billion, up P200 million from P1.2 billion this year. From next year’s appropriation, P60 million is allotted for road repairs. The LGU, likewise, requested another P100 million from the national government for such undertakings.

Complementing these will be the expansion of roads, particularly those near the exits, by at least six meters.

Image credits: MPT South Management Corp.



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