CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga – Less than two years before he vows out of office on June 30, 2022, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to reshape his administration, battered by economic downturn due to pandemic and natural calamities, by appointing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and two others as presidential advisers.

Mrs. Arroyo, a former lawmaker from Pampanga and daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, bounced back from writing her memoirs while in retirement and assumed the post as Presidential Adviser on Clark Flagship Programs and Projects to step economic growth and recovery through the Clark and Subic corridor.

Mrs. Arroyo did not run for Congress which he had served as congresswoman in the second district of Pampanga which includes her hometown of Lubao and Speaker to give way to her eldest son, Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

Earlier, Mr. Duterte ordered the construction of “alternate” government center at the New Clark City where a modern sports center now stands after hosting the Southeast Asian Games which the government can use in case of emergencies like floods and earthquakes which could immobilize Metro Manila, the country’s regional capital.

The two other key appointees are former Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco Jr. who rejoined the Cabinet as Presidential Adviser on Streamlining of Government Processes with the rank of Secretary and businessman Ramon Jacinto as Presidential Adviser for Telecommunications.

Evasco, a former New People’s Army rebel, priest, Bohol town mayor and a trusted official of Duterte when he was Davao City mayor, resigned as Cabinet Secretary to run for governor of Bohol but was defeated by then Congressman Arthur Yap.

Evasco also had served in 2016 as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council after Vice President Leni Robredo resigned from her post and as member of a panel formed to dialogue with the Catholic Church and other religious groups in June 2018.

Jacinto, who is known also as a singer and musician and a former candidate for senator, has served the Duterte administration in various capacities. He was the former Presidential Adviser on Economic Affairs and Information Communications Technology, with the rank of Undersecretary.

He is currently the chairman of the board of the Philippine Overseas Telecommunications Corp., which is the holding company of Philippine Communications Satellite Corporation. Before that, he was president and CEO of Philcomsat since 2008.

After taking her oath of office before Barangay Pansol (Quezon City) Chairman Joseph Mahusay, Arroyo, who early on her presidency initiated the expansion of the Clark International Airport, immediately called on government, business movers, investors and shakers to turn Clark into Asia’s economic hub.

“Let us join hands with government and business movers and shakers to turn Clark into Asia’s economic powerhouse in the 2020s,” Arroyo said in a statement.

She said rapid harnessing of the Clark-Subic service logistics corridor for jobs and investment is indispensable to national recovery.
Arroyo said she was grateful to President Rodrigo Duterte for his trust by appointing her to the key post.

“This is an immense undertaking that was one of my priority thrusts during my presidency, and I am grateful to President Rodrigo Duterte for his trust in empowering me to provide advice on this economy-boosting initiative once more,” she said.

The Clark Development Corp. (CDC) which is based in the former United States Air Force base thanked Duterte for Arroyo’s appointment.

“With former President Arroyo’s stature before the international community, honored leadership, and clear and comprehensive vision for the country’s bases development, Clark Freeport Zone will be greatly benefitted and will be propelled to be a modern aerotropolis and a major business and economic hub it has been envisioned to be,” the CDC said in its statement.

An aerotropolis is “an urban sub-region whose infrastructure, land-use, and economy are centred on an airport.”

It said with Arroyo’s able guidance and economic expertise, Clark would be able to complete legacy projects that would benefit not only Central Luzon but the entire country as well.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) also welcomed Arroyo’s appointment.

“Her wisdom and gravitas will be invaluable in making the vision of Clark as the next premier metropolis of Asia a reality,” the BCDA said in its statement.

Mabalacat City Mayor Crisostomo, who chairs the Metro Clark Advisory Council, said “her (Arroyo’s) kabalens are extremely happy knowing that her wisdom and compassion would complement the vision of Clark and its neighboring local government units.”

Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin Jr. said Arroyo would further develop the potential of the Clark Freeport Zone as a major growth corridor in Southeast Asia.

Lazatin credited Arroyo for the development of the growth corridor in Central Luzon comprising the international airport of the Clark Freeport Zone and the deep-sea port of Subic Freeport Zone.

“One of the lingering legacies of Arroyo was the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) that linked the growth centers of Clark and Subic,” he said.

Under the Arroyo administration, he said the government successfully negotiated increased seat entitlements with various countries that enabled the Clark International Airport to allow the entry of more local and foreign airlines.

“This ongoing development in the Philippines aviation sector is still being felt up to this day with the entry of foreign airline operators in Clark, such as Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways,” Lazatin added. Key components of the government’s economic development, such as the establishment of road networks, airports, seaports, and farm-to-market roads had been put in place in areas encompassing the Clark Freeport Zone and Subic Freeport Zone.

(The writer, a native of Lubao, Pampanga, is an active journalist and public relations practitioner in the Philippines and United States. She served as spokesperson of Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo in the Pampanga Capitol and is currently managing editor of the Philippine News Today, the premier Filipino American newspaper in the United States since 1961, among others.)