By DOM GALEON
Images by NOEL PABALATE
Video by ROC VERDERA
Anyone who has ever tried it knows that it takes more than just rock and roll to build a city—not that there’s a lot of people who have tried it, anyway. But those who have, like Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) chief Vince Dizon, know that it takes a great deal of effort, an army of builders, and months and even years to properly set down a city. Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day. And although Rome was founded in a day, how the city became the center of the ancient western world took centuries in the making.
In the case of New Clark City, or at least for the first phase of this modern development north of Manila, which is to be the hub for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games that starts later this month, it took nearly two years. Considering how much has to be done and built, that is fast. But Vince will tell anyone who asks that it took nothing short of a miracle and hard work and persistence to build New Clark City.
When did you start this whole project?
Where we are now, which is ground zero of the first phase of New Clark City, was envisioned and conceptualized during the previous administration. And as a testament to the kind of leader President Duterte is, we saw this project as really something that was going to change how we build and develop cities in the Philippines.
When we saw that, and we presented it to the President, he immediately told us that we’ve got to build this—we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do it fast. That is, I think, a testament to the kind of leader we have. Unlike in the past, when a new government comes in usually a lot of projects get either delayed or sometimes even cancelled or reversed completely even though they’ve already been started. President Duterte is not like that. I think he’s the only President, at least in my memory, who did not discontinue a project that was done by the previous government.
Because of that, because of that support, because of that will, and because of the swift and very bold decision-making that our President is known for, we have this. We broke ground in Jan. 23, 2018 and then we started construction in March the same year. So in just a little over 18 months, we have all of this.
The first structure that was completed was the Athletic Stadium, a 20,000-seater certified Stadium by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which is the governing international body for athletics. [The Aquatics Center] is also a certified facility by the International Swimming Federation or FINA and it was also certified already as a class one facility, meaning you can hold the Olympics here, if you wanted to.
We really tried to ensure that we would be building not just any facility but something that, as the cliché goes, is world class.
What was the inspiration for the design of New Clark City’s structures?
The conceptual designer, the architect for the all the structures that you see here—from the Aquatics Center to the stadium to the Athletes Village, the government residences, and the government buildings—it’s all Royal Pineda of Budji+Royal, one of the top architects in the country today. We worked with Royal because we had the same vision: To create something very modern, to show that the Philippines is now becoming a very modern, developed country but ensure that it retains the Filipino identity. He calls it “Modern Filipino Sensibility.” That’s Royal’s entire philosophy.
The Aquatics Center is an example of that. It’s modern but very Filipino. It was inspired by the baklad, which is our traditional fishing net. That’s why you have the arrow and diamond-shaped roof structure. For the translucent roofing, Royal drew inspiration from the Capiz windows in Spanish-style Filipino houses. If you look at it, it’s a very modern and very iconic structure.
It’s also very tropical. There’s no air conditioning, the winds flow, there’s a lot of cross ventilation. And, of course, you have that beautiful view of the mountains. Royal really chose this site for the aquatic center because he wanted to juxtapose the water with the mountains, the Zambales mountain range. We are facing westward, the sunset view. Royal wanted spectators to see the beautiful sunset.
You look very excited, very enthusiastic about this whole project but I’m sure that, in these past months—almost two years—it hasn’t always been easy.
It’s been very challenging, yes.
Can you talk about these challenges?
Madami eh. (laughs)
Obviously, being a government institution, the challenge is always to navigate through all the processes, procedures, all the red tape. That’s the first challenge. We had an immovable deadline—the SEA Games—and you can’t move that date. We had to finish before that date and we needed time to test and for the athletes to use it. Thankfully, we were able to complete it. By the beginning of September, we were practically done and we started testing as early as the first week of that month. That’s the first challenge: To go through government bureaucracy and try to move things as quickly as possible.
The second is, of course, you have to deal with the developer, with the contractor. But thankfully, we had a great conductor. MTD of Malaysia is our partner here. I must say, without them, without the right partner, this wouldn’t have been possible.
A third—matatawa kayo dito—but the weather was a challenge. Intermittent rain is the number one enemy of construction. Last year was quite challenging for us because of the non-stop rains. This year, we’re thankful because it rained less. It wasn’t so bad this year.
For government, working with a tight deadline, with a strict deadline that you can’t move, that’s very hard. But thankfully, with the help of little prayers from up there, we were able to get this done. A lot of prayers and keeping people together, making sure the team works well—the Filipino bayanihan spirit, tulong-tulong lahat.
What’s the plan for New Clark City after the SEA Games?
We have to maintain it. What we want to do is to privatize the operations and maintenance. That’s critical, especially for the sports facilities, the Athletes Village—we’re going to privatize those. We’re going to have a private developer manage those, including the public park, so they can be kept well and can be maintained properly.
From the revenues that will be generated from these, the government will just get a share. But let’s leave the expertise to the private sector because the government doesn’t really have that expertise.