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Comprising the provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, Central Luzon plays a huge role in the Philippine economy. It remains the biggest producer of rice, the country’s most important staple crop, hence its “Rice Granary of the Philippines” title. But the region’s economy has become more diversified, thanks to developments like the economic zones in Clark and Subic, both in Pampanga.

According to the National Economic and Development Authority Regional Office 3 (NEDA 3), the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of Central Luzon grew 9.3% in 2017. Though the rate was slightly lower than the 9.5% posted in 2016, the agency noted in an April press release that it was still the third highest among the regional economic growth rates in the country. Furthermore, Central Luzon contributed 0.6 percentage point to the country’s 6.7% GDP growth rate last year.

“All three economic sectors namely Agriculture, Hunting, Forestry and Fishing (AFF), Industry and Services and all sub-industries except Mining and Quarrying posted positive growths. NEDA 3 keenly awaited the 2017 GRDP estimates because historically, GRDP growth in the region tended to be much lower a year after a high growth is recorded,” the agency said.

But when the estimates finally came in, the agency was pleased that the region was able to sustain a high growth, despite it being a few percentage points lower this time. “Further, the 2017 growth remains higher than the national growth rate of 6.7%. The region is even steadily increasing its share of the country’s GDP from 9.7% of the country’s GDP, up from 9.5% in 2016 and from 9.3% in 2015,” the agency said.

“Central Luzon is thus realizing its role of becoming the primary contributor to the country’s economy.”

The region’s 9.5% GRDP growth rate exceeded the upper-range target of 6.9% set by NEDA 3’s Central Luzon Regional Development Plan (CLRDP). This plan, which covers the years from 2017 to 2022, follows the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, a blueprint for the country’s development under President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration.

NEDA 3 said the plan also has targets for poverty reduction and employment rates to see if economic growth truly benefits the vulnerable segments of the population. “In terms of employment, the PSA estimated that the region’s employment rate in 2017 was 93.4%, which is a slightly lower than the target 93.7% set for the year,” it said.

As the implementation of major infrastructure projects planned for the region starts, more jobs are expected to be created. One such project, the agency noted, is the 9,450-hectare development of New Clark City in Tarlac. Part of this is the development of a 200-hectare Administrative Center where a number of government offices will be located.

“The Department of Transportation (DoTr) Central office has already relocated in Clark. Secretary Mark A. Villar of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) recently stated that the agency will soon follow the lead of DoTr, and more agencies are expected to tag along,” NEDA 3 said.

A 20,000-seater athletics stadium and a 2,000-seater aquatics centers are already being constructed in the New Clark City. “These will serve as venues for the athletics and water sports during the 30th Southeast Asian Games which will be hosted by the Philippines in 2019. In addition to Clark, Subic and Bulacan are also going to be venues for the SEA games,” the agency said.

Another infrastructure project that the region will see is the Manila-Clark railway. The groundbreaking for the said project was held early this year in Marilao, Bulacan. Meanwhile, the feasibility study of the Cavite-Corregidor-Bataan Interlink Bridge to strengthen the connectivity and economic agglomeration between Central Luzon, Metro Manila and CALABARZON, the agency said, was being undertaken by DPWH.

“Flood management and vulnerability reduction programs will be vigorously pursued to protect existing assets from the destructive forces of nature, and to strengthen the overall resiliency of the region,” NEDA 3 added.

When it comes to poverty, NEDA 3 noted that an update to Central Luzon’s poverty incidence of 11.2% will not be available until next year. “However, the very good economic performance of the region in 2016 and 2017 and the jobs generated by the various infrastructure projects, suggest that poverty rate had likely lowered to the CL-RDP target 10.6 percent in 2017,” it said.

In addition to the abovementioned developments, Central Luzon managed to ramp up its palay production by 8.73% from 3.34 million metric tons (MT) in 2016 to 3.63 million MT in 2017, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). In the final quarter of 2017, which saw palay production reach 7.32 million MT (which was higher than the 7.01 million MT recorded in the same period of 2016), Central Luzon bested all other regions in terms of incremental increase in production.

“The regions that contributed significant increments in production were Cagayan Valley (2.40%), Central Luzon (3.15%), Bicol Region (0.74%) and Central Visayas (0.59%),” PSA said in a January release. The agency noted that one of the factors to which the increases in output were attributed was the increased yield in Central Luzon resulting from the use of better seeds, close monitoring of pests and diseases and sufficient water supply.