Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Vince Dizon is being called “the man behind New Clark City,” the sprawling 9,450 hectares being developed in Clark Pampanga, under the Build Build Build program.
So when asked about how he feels for having that title attributed to his name, it was surprising to see him chuckle into an uncomfortable laughter.
“I don’t think they’ll remember me. They’ll remember the city,” he said. “Ten years down the road, a lot of this is built up, I plan on just spending weekends here and just see how things have gone, how things have progressed.”
He added that despite all the criticisms and complaints plaguing the program, people will remember this project.
“Because when you build infrastructure, you’re gonna get complaints. Things are gonna get worse before they get better, because you’re gonna build. You’re gonna cause traffic, you’re gonna cause inconvenience.”
The day started a little ahead of schedule that Saturday, Nov. 9. It’s easy to think that a lot of tasks were lessened from Vince Dizon’s plate the more prepared his team has become for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, that will take place on Nov. 30 until Dec. 11.
“I feel lighter in the sense that we’re already confident that we will be able to successfully host the SEA Games here,” he said. “But you’re right. It still gives me some anxiety attacks thinking of what we’re going to build next.”
He said everything is “practically done” aside from ironing the minor details.
But Dizon, of course, wears more than one hat from being the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) chief, to being the Presidential Adviser on Government Flagship Projects. He decided to meet CNN Philippines right after his business meeting in the morning, instead of the supposed schedule in the afternoon.
When the camera and microphone were finally in place, and the questionnaire was all prepared, a shift in Dizon’s tone was evident — as if saying he’s ready to face another day, another group of people, another responsibility, and another camera.
“Game?” He asked. “Game,” he said.
On infrastructure and leading the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program
“It’s special. Who gets the chance to spearhead the building of a new city? Not many people get that chance.”
However, leading this project has demanded so many sacrifices from Dizon.
The countless criticisms about the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration are not new to him. In fact, he has to face all of this on a day-to-day basis.
The presidential adviser cleared it out that the program is not really supposed to be completed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, but should still be continued later on.
“Build, Build, Build has only been there for two and a half years. So, we’re still a long way to go. It won’t stop when the president exits in 2022. It should and must continue. It cannot stop. Because if it stops, patay na naman. We’re gonna go back to the same old problems of projects being discontinued, and being cancelled.”
Dizon paused for a while and sighed in frustration. “Nakakainis.”
Despite all this, there is something in him that fuels the former economics professor in doing his job, and that is the desire to build good infrastructure for the Philippines.
“Infrastructure, I think, is the single biggest weakness of the Philippine economy. I know we’ve grown so fast in the past couple of years. We have one of the best workforces in the world. We have one of the youngest, most dynamic, smartest people in the world.”
“But infrastructure is really a problem for us and we go through it every day,” he added.
He said that it is a dream for him to build infrastructure that is of the same caliber with other developing and developed countries.
“It’s always made me wonder. Why can’t we have this? Why can’t we have a train that brings us from the airport directly to where we want to go? When you go to Hong Kong, or Tokyo, or Singapore, it’s just so convenient.”
“There should be no reason why we should not have that.”
The host country nightmare
One of the flagship projects of the Build, Build, Build program is the establishment of world-class sports facilities for the SEA Games like the New Clark Stadium, and the Aquatics Center.
This, according to Dizon, was the biggest challenge of the construction of the New Clark City Phase 1. “That was the first and major stress point, because it is an immovable deadline,” he said. “It’s not like we can move the deadline a month. We can’t. It can’t be.”
The building of these world-class certified sports facilities was delivered according to timeline. But what many people are worried about is how these facilities can turn into waste after the SEA Games, just like what happened to Brazil after the 2014 World Cup. In an article by Vox, Brazil’s $900 million, 72,000-seater stadium, was turned into a parking lot a year after the FIFA World Cup.
The Philippine hosting of the 2019 SEA Games is also being plagued with different controversies. The first of many is the ₱50 million-worth cauldron, placed in New Clark City, that drew attention on social media.
There were also logistical problems that arose involving the men’s football teams of Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Laos, and the country’s own. The three foreign teams, reportedly, were not taken care of in terms of hotel accommodation. They also had to cancel their training due to these mishaps.
Venues were not yet completely ready for competitions, especially the Rizal Memorial Stadium, where there was no scoreboard during the Philippines-Cambodia match in the SEA Games preliminaries. The Philippine government allotted ₱6 billion for the hosting of the SEA Games, and the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), led by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, have apologized for all the logistical nightmare.
In terms of the New Clark City and the sports facilities built there, it is Dizon’s obligation to make sure all these facilities will not turn into an economic burden for the country.
“The fear [is that] these facilities end up as white elephants. To me, the best way is to privatize all of this. Once the private sector comes in, they have the expertise and they have the market knowledge and expertise to ensure that these are marketed well,” he said.
Dizon added that the facilities can be rented by foreign athletes who are struggling to train in their respective countries during winter. “[We need] to also find other uses for them so that they can be self-sustaining. They can generate enough revenue in order to make them self-sustaining.”
He added that they already have some inquiries from countries in colder climates to use these facilities to train for the Tokyo Olympics. “There are not a lot of countries that have world-class certified sports facilities in tropical climates. They’re very few.”
And despite all the work, time, and effort that he has invested in this project, he doesn’t want to call the New Clark City his baby: “No, my daughter will get jealous.”