MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo has promised to provide a lot of projects for the Bicol Region if she is elected president in the 2022 national elections, saying that the primary concern for the area is improving transportation.
During her visit to Virac, Catanduanes for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) Vaccine Express program on Wednesday, Robredo remarked that provinces north of Metro Manila are linked by major expressway systems like the North Luzon Expressway and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, but those moving south have few options.
This would change, she said, if she gets elected as president — which would make her the first from the Bicol Region.
“Napakarami. Napakarami kasi wala pang naging Presidenteng bikolano. Hindi ko alam kung nagbabiyahe kayo papuntang North, pero kung nagbabiyahe kayo papuntang North, maiinggit ka talaga sa dami ng mga expressways, sa dami ng mga highways,” Robredo said when asked about what she can do for Bicol Region.
(We can do a lot, especially since we haven’t had a president from Bicol. I don’t know if you have traveled north, but if you did, you would be jealous of the many expressways and highways available.)
“Halimbawa, pupunta ka lang sa North, pwede kang pumili ng NLEX, may TPLEX, may SCTEX. Pero ‘yung pauwi dito sa atin isa lang ‘yung daan, na lahat pang bayan dadaanan mo, na kung mayroon halimbawa, mayroong Santacruzan o November 1, dadaanan mo ‘yung lahat ng mga sementeryo, inaabot ka ng 16 hours,” she added.
(For example, just by going North, you can choose between NLEX, TPLEX, and SCTEX. But going home to us, we are forced to use one road, which would make you pass through several towns. For example, if the town you would be passing through is holding a feast, or if during All Souls’ Day, you would pass by cemeteries — you’ll need 16 hours to travel.)
According to the Vice President, improving transportation to the southern provinces also includes the railroad system, which provides farmers a cheaper alternative regarding the transportation of their products.
Also, she noted that transportation plays a vital role in disaster response, especially as Bicol Region faces a lot of storms every year, which sometimes leads to provinces like Catanduanes being isolated from the mainland.
For Catanduanes in particular, Robredo said that abaca farmers would benefit from lower costs of transporting their produce as it would translate to higher revenues.
“‘Yong railroad kasi iyon ‘yung makakatulong para ‘yung mga farmers natin makabenta ng kanilang produkto na ‘yung cost of transportation mababa. Dito sa Catanduanes ia-assess natin kung paano siya ikakabit sa mainland para, kasi ‘di ba lalo ‘pag bagyo, naaano talaga, nahihiwalay ‘yung Catanduanes, lalo pa ‘pag malakas ‘yung alon, walang flights,” she said.
(Railroads would be a big help for farmers so that they can sell their products at a lower cost of transportation. Here in Catanduanes, we can assess how we can connect it to the mainland, especially during typhoons, because Catanduanes is really isolated from the rest of the mainland, without sea and air travel.)
“Talagang mahirap. Alam ko na for a very long time, mayroon nang mga proposal na gumawa ng tulay, I think papuntang Caramoan, so ire-revisit natin iyon kasi ‘yun naman ‘yung magse-spur ng rural development eh, na bigyan ng mas maraming access ‘yung mga tao dito […] Maraming pwedeng gawin for the entire region,” she added.
(It’s really hard. I know that for a very long time, there were proposals to create a bridge, I think towards Caramoan, so we will revisit that because that is what spurs rural development — providing much access to opportunities for the people. We can do a lot for the entire region.)
Numbers from the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2018 — and in past studies — have indicated that Bicol Region remains one of the poorest areas in the country, alternating spots with the previously war-torn Bangsamoro region.
Catanduanes and nearby Masbate provinces remain within the country’s top 20 poorest provinces, while the entire Bicol Region tops the list in terms of the highest magnitude of poor among the population, at over two million.
Robredo is one of the several presidential aspirants for the 2022 national elections, along other potential presidential candidates like Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, labor leader Leody de Guzman, former senator Bongbong Marcos, and former military man Antonio Parlade Jr.