The Presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III began at noon on June 30, 2010, when he became the fifteenth President of the Philippines, succeeding Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. What is your overview of these 5 years of President’s Aquino Govern-ment?
Well, I can honestly say that the Aquino Administration has done a lot in terms of uplifting the economic status of our country, tourism and what not. I am not in the same party as him but other than that, our province has received a lot of big projects in terms of development, health care and tourism. For example, in my term, the Department of Health is going to give us Php 200 million budget for building a provincial hospital. It’s gonna be the first in our province. They’re also giving us Php 600 million for the Department of Agriculture to build farm to market roads in upland mountainous areas in my province because there’s a lot of coconut trees, corn and palay but no roads. So that Php 600 million road concreting project is gonna be a big boost to our farming industry. We also felt that with the good strides and good governance platform, we feel more investors, both doemestic and foreign, coming to our province. More car manufacturers are setting up in up and coming towns in Camarines Sur such as Pili, Goa, Libmanan. When you visit, I will tour you. But one of the best things really that has happened is that IBM set up a call center in our province which has about 1000 seats. Sutherland which is in our IT park has over 2000 seats now from 1000. Stellar, a company from Australia, is also gonna base their call center in our province. Amazon just actually visited to maybe locate in CamSur as well. It’s all in the tourism brochure. So, the past 5 years has been very good economically. Maybe the challenge the province faced is typhoon. We are like in the highway of typhoons. Every year, we get about 20-25 typhoons in our province alone. But previous years because of climate change, it’s been avoiding us. It’s going to Baler and Siargao now, actually. If you look at the map, we’re pretty much in the middle of the Philippines. The past 10 years, all the typhoons are going through us. But now it’s going thru up or down.
What have been the most important challenges that you had and the most im-portant achievements you had?
Stiil, I think, it’s poverty because there’s still a lot of poor people in my province just like in other parts of the Philippines. But, being a young governor, I wanna give back and help the youth in my province. I believe that education is one of the solutions to the problem of poverty. Right now, we are building 5 new colleges that’s gonna offer Information Technology to get ready and prepare for the demands of more BPO companies setting up here. We have IT, Education for those who wanted to be teachers which right now is very in demand here. We’re gonna do automotive, electronics, mechanics and what not. One thing that we’re very proud of in our college programs is that it’s gonna be for free. All high school graduates in our province will have an option to the colleges we’re building now for free. In some parts like the municipality of Siruma, Garchiturena and Caramoan, these are all far flung coastal areas. Maybe only 10% of high school graduates continue to get their bachelor’s degree which is a very sad number. So we’re building colleges in those areas. All of these colleges will be strategically located. Our investment guide is over there. We promote heavily on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Actually, our call centers are Sutherland, IBM and Stellar which are all PPPs. What we do is we own the land and lease it out, maybe like for 2 years with no rent just to set up the building and the business and we’ll take care of the permits necessary to operate. That has been working but we believe with your help, more people will know our drive and look at Camarines Sur as an option for setting up business. Another PPP we’ve been doing in regards to sustainable energy are the facilities on Solar, Wind and Biomass energy from companies in Idaho.
Camarines Sur or also called CamSur is the largest among the six provinces in the Bicol region in Luzon both in terms of population and land area. The province is subdivided into 2 cities and 35 municipalities. Although the town of Pili is the provincial capital, Naga City is the commercial, educational, financial and cultural center of the province. WHAT DOES THE PROVINCE HAS TO OFFER TO ITS VISI-TOR?
We’ve been branding Camarines Sur as a Sports Adventure Tourist Destination in the Philippines. We heavily promote our wakeboarding which is dubbed as the best area in the world. Even wakeboarding magazine in the US said that or quoted that. We were cover 3 years already in that magazine. We hosted world championships 3 years in a row in 2009-2011 as well as Asian Championships and National Championships. We promote Caramoan as a Survivor Island because the show filmed there like Survivor USA, Survivor France, India and Israel. How we promote it is not like Boracay because it’s just white sand beaches, crystal clear water. How we promote Caramoan is through adventure. We rent out motor bikes just like in Phuket, Thailand. They could go to waterfalls with a guide rappelling the cliffs and the like. What we’re after is the adventure side and not the relaxing vacation side. It’s been working so far especially with wakeboarding because we were number 1 tourist destination because our tourists are different. They stay in our province for a minimum of one month and maximum of 6 months. As compared to Boracay, most people just go there for the weekend. Why? Because white sand and clear water could get old after a week. But with us, wakeboarding is a skill that when you learn how to do it, you want to improve and you do it by staying longer. I guess there’s really a difference between our tourists and tourists of Boracay and Palawan. We’ve been hosting a lot of tourism activities besides Wake boarding and paddle boarding championships, we also do triathlons. We also did Challenge. We also did Iron Man for 3 years. We actually signed a contract with Challenge for 5 years. We started last year so we’re gonna do 4 more races in our province. We wish we could also continue hosting Iron Man but their deal is they move to a different place every 3 years. I think they’ll be in Cebu. We believe that we stick with the adventure aspect of promoting our tourism which is working so far and with your help, maybe it will work even more. Before my dad became governor, my grandfather was governor for 16 years. The way he was promoting CamSur before is as Piligrimage Province. If you ask around in the Philipines, the Bicol region is the most religious region in the Philippines. Our Peñafrancia Festival every September is the Pilgrimage Festival in the Philippines. If you’re a devout Catholic here, at least once in your life, you make it a point to visit the Peñafrancia Festival which is held in Naga City. That in itself drives a lot of domestic tourists in our province.
You have partnerships for both IT, education and energy sectors which are quite impressive. What other strategic sectors are you willing to act on more in your province?
Our province was the number 1 tourist destination in 2010 and 2011 and we believe that if we attract the company such as Hilton or Sheraton or one of the biggest hotel chains in the world, it will jump start more people investing money in resorts and developing our tourist destinations. For example, in Boracay, it was the number 1 island in the world for 2013 because Shangri-La set up there. When they set up there, all other foreign hotel chains started setting up as well. We want to attract tourism-related investment such as big hotel chains. I believe it only takes one hotel chain to set up and everybody will follow.
Camarines Sur is becoming a very famous tourist destination in the Philippines. There are a lot of things to do and sights to visit in this place which makes it popular to both local and foreign tourists. One of the destinations that probably made CamSur very popular is the Camsur Water Sports Complex. The park is located in the Provincial Capitol Complex of Cadlan and Pili. This is designed for wakeboarding and water skiing. If you enjoy this kind of extreme water sports, then you should not miss visiting this place. International and local wakeboarding competitions have been held here several times including the 2008 World Wakeboard Championship. The park also has BMX trail, motor cross and skateboarding. Plans for developing and promting tourism as a focus?
CamSur Water Sports Complex is a fully operational 6-point tower wake boarding facility. My dad started it in 2006. We have a world-class wake boarding area, a boat lake, a 500-bed hotel, 3 convention centers with a total of about 200 hectares of land area. The capitol building is also there. The call centers are also there. We are talking to Vista Land and Ayala inviting them to set up a housing facility there for employees maybe like a thousand houses and outside maybe, build a commercial area.
How are you planning to attract more visitors?
Number 1 is through events. We have to be aggressive in hosting events whether it’s on wake boarding, triathlon. Actually, next year we are planning on doing a big music festival. We wanna invite Drake as our headliner. Number 2 is sticking to traditional promotions such as tv, newspaper, radio and magazines. We’ve been doing a lot of beauty pageant. We hosted Ms. World, Ms. Global and we’ve been featured in a lot of TV shows in the Philippines. We want to promote subtly or discreetly like in Bubble Gang, it’s a gag show. We invited them like hosting their whole production with free food and free hotel to promote our province. All their gags for 2 episodes were in my province and it got a lot of good feedback. We are very proud that we’re the first province in the whole country to pass an ordinance to declare the 200 hectares of the Capitol Complex as a Tourism Zone. With that, there’s gonna be less permit for people who wanna set up there. There’s gonna be less red tape.
Agri-based, producing rice, corn, feedmeal, freshwater fish, livestock. Entre-preneurs engage in trading, often branching out towards neighboring provinces in the south as local demand might be limited, indicated by its mostly 3rd-5th inco-me class municipalities. What are the opportunities of CamSur has to offer to the investor that are looking into philipiones and its growing tourism market?
We believe that the Philippines is the next destination for the BPO industry. In the past 10 years, maybe it was India. Now, people are starting to go to the Philippines. We want to take advantage of that demand so what we’re doing right now, also inside the Capitol Complex, is buiding Php 20-million buildings even without tenants. Those are reserved for BPO companies who wanna set up here. We’re promoting heavily on that, talking to a lot of companies, and joining trade shows in Germany. We went to London last year. We are also planning to join the Surf Expo in Orlando. The past two years has been really good. In terms of other stuff like BPO and tourism, we have been talking to VitaCoco. They are very interested in setting up a US$6-million facility here because Camarines Sur is very agriculturally rich. We have a lot of coconuts. The province is planning to invest in a Php200-million post-processing facility for the coconuts.
How are you planning to solve some of the problems and challenges that your province is facing?
As a young leader, education is really the best solution to address poverty. We support and we are pushing more students in the province to graduate with a college degree. We want them to have a competitive advantage. We have Japanese training centers in the Capitol Complex. We teach children for free the Japanese language. We have medical transcription training for people who wanna go into that industry. We have English proficiency. We want to help our youth in the province to have a competitive advantage for when they want to apply for work in Manila or wherever, we want them to have an extra push for employers to hire them. Another solution to poverty, I believe, is tourism. How? The revenue we’ve been getting from tourism has double and tripled for the past 2 years. It has created a lot of jobs even just the Water Sports Complex, we hire waiters, cooks, housekeeping staff so everybody is happy.
Could you tell us some key figures that indicate the achievements of the province?
In 2012, we’re very proud that we reached, for the first time in history, 485,000 foreign tourists. It’s been averaging on that number for the past 2-3 years. But our ultimate goal is to reach 1 million foreign tourists in Camarines Sur alone. We believe that with the right aide from the national government, we can achieve it because the Philippines is so beautiful. We are blessed with everything like white sand beaches, mountainous cold areas, long rivers, and more. All we need is more exposure and more aide. We are famous in the wake boarding industry worldwide. If you ask a wake boarder where is the best wake boarding spot in the world, maybe 8 out 10 will say CamSur. I know in surfing, if you ask people where is the best surfing spot in the world, they say Bali. But our market for some reason is Europeans and Australians. I have no idea why but they are the ones who always go back year after year to our province. We wanna tap the Americans because it’s a huge market.
Before we proceed with our last question, we would like to know more about your personal life. You are the youngest governor in the history of the Philippines. You are the 4th generation governor of the Villafuerte clan. Could you tell us more about your personal and professional background, and how did you become the governor?
Before that, I would like to say that mu grandfather was governor for 16 years and my father served for 9 years. So 9 + 16 is 25, so basically, the whole of my life, I’m 26 years old, I’ve been in a politically inclined family. Ever since I was 5 years old, I’ve seen all these leaders went in and out of our house. I hear all these conversations in how to develop the province even more. I guess I can say it runs in my blood. I went to school in De La Salle Zobel in Manila for grade school and half of high school because I transferred to an American International School in Fort Bonifacio. From there, I took the IB diploma course and went straight to the University of San Diego for my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. I had an awesome time there. If I’m not a governor right now maybe I’d be back in San Diego. I love that place. While I was in the states, I took advantage of it by setting up a clothing store in Manila. It grew to 8 stores. We have a store in Boracay, Cebu and 6 in Manila. What we did was, I myself went to local surf brand stores in the States like Lucca, Herley and Nike skateboarding. What I did, I bought them myself in the states from the factories because a lot of the are based in San Diego. I took the opportunity just driving my pick up truck to the factories and buying in bulk so I got it for cheaper. Then, I sent it back to the Philippines selling it here for double or triple the price. That was good but if you’re in politics, you have no other time for business especially on retail. Now that I’m in public service, I’m very happy because it’s a fulfilling job. You get to help people everyday. I have 1036 villages under my watch and my province is 5000 sq.has big. We used to be the 39th poorest province and now, we’re the 10th richest because of tourism. I do believe that’s the way to go. Our formula has been working so far. We recently added the business investment promotion recently. So far, we have attracted 2.
What is your final message to our readers, regarding to the market and the op-portunities in Camarines Sur? What would you say to the people outside the Phil-ippines who might not know about CamSur?
I’d like to start by asking a question. When was the last time you experienced something for the first time? Come South, CamSur. I believe that our province has everything you can imagine or you want in a tourist destination except for snow, of course. We have white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, mountainous areas, the Bicol River, the Peñafrancia Festival, we have all these events. Come South, CamSur, I’m sure you will have the time of your life.