Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Polomolok in South Cotabato is a mono town: Its main economic activity is the agricultural production inside the vast Dole plantation. Its present and future are dictated by the rise and decline of Dole’s fortunes. The residents there and nearby rural communities like Tupi have become dependent on Dole either by working in the fields and processing plants or by establishing business and farming deals with the multinational firm. Small income opportunities are also generated through surplus economic activities (sari-sari store, carenderia, public transport).

Polomolok seems to thrive as a viable farming town because of Dole. But what if Dole decides one day to transfer its operations somewhere else? What will happen to Polomolok’s papaya and pineapple farmers? How will Polomolok survive after decades of supplying the needs of a single company?

There should be more studies on the situation of mono cities and former mono cities in the Philippines. I am particularly interested to learn more about the evolution of mono cities and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. How do they react if their town’s economic profile or potential has been permanently altered?

Military camps

For example, Subic and Clark were American military bases for almost a century before they were converted into special economic zones in the 1990s. What happened to the towns that served the needs of US personnel inside the bases? When the Americans left, the fall of the entertainment and hospitality industries in Angeles, Pampanga and Olongapo, Zambales was expected but the social impact was greater. Until the 1980s, the presence of the bases was considered as permanent by everybody in Angeles, Mabalacat, Dau, Olongapo, and Subic. The bases affected how residents planned their lives and how policymakers drafted development programs. Then, the bases were suddenly removed.

Aside from the world-class airport in Clark and freeport in Subic, the Americans also left behind an undisclosed amount of toxic wastes, Amerisian children, and HIV. How did the people in the towns near Subic and Clark adjust to the new geo-economic realities?

Today, Subic and Clark are still considered super mini cities because of their excellent infrastructure and strategic locations. Meanwhile, Olongapo and Angeles – the towns which benefited and suffered the most during and after the American colonial and neocolonial times – are also performing well but like before, they still play a secondary role compared to the more prominent Subic and Clark centers.

Relocation centers

Relocation sites are also mono towns. Most of the time, these are farming communities outside the Metropolis where land value is lower and more importantly, are found outside the gaze of tourists, credit rating analysts, investors, and national politicians.

Relocating a squatter community is a violent act. First, an entire village of informal settlers is destroyed. Second, they are transferred to a remote community with little livelihood opportunities. And third, the economic potential of the relocation site is downgraded. From a farming estate, the relocation area is instantly converted into a housing center of the former urban poor. Sapang Palay, Bagong Barrio, Pangarap Village, Erap City, Southville are examples of these former farming villages turned relocation sites. Cavite, which used to be an agricultural province with productive fishing and farming villages, is now the most populous province in the country after the Marcos government designated it as the main relocation site outside Manila. The present government’s resettlement areas are now found in Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal.

How did farmers and their families respond to the abrupt and forced transformation of their agricultural land? Did they react violently when strangers from the city ‘invaded’ their land? When the old and new settlers interact, which culture or value system became dominant?

A relocation site suffers from the stigma of being a colony of city rejects. It’s treated by everybody – from government officials, respectable civic leaders, and corporate sponsors – as a miserable and hopeless community which requires constant charity from the rich and surveillance from state forces.

But as a mono town, a relocation site isn’t permanent since the government or big property speculators can always reclaim it. Residents of an old relocation site in Dasmarinas, Cavite are in danger of being evicted again because SM wants to build a mall in their area. Lupang Pangako settlers near Litex and Payatas will have to be relocated again because their land is the chosen site for the proposed National Government Center. Ownership of Pangarap Village in Caloocan, a housing village of Malacanang employees during the Marcos time, is being contested today by the Araneta clan.


Are mono towns beneficial to the public? Do they uplift the living conditions of the communities they serve? Let’s discuss the social impact of establishing industrial estates and school centers.

Rosario, Cavite has become a mono town ever since an export processing zone started operating there. Its fishing port is still open but the export zone provides the core economic opportunity for the residents. If not hired as workers, Rosario residents cater to the daily needs of the export zone laborers. Inside the export enclave is a well-planned grid of factories and assembly line production units but outside the complex is a vast ghetto-like, working-class community. Rosario has been turned into a giant boarding house for overworked and underpaid workers. The local government of Rosario has no jurisdiction over the export zone and the tax benefits derived from the operations of the export zone are minimal.

The most famous school center in the country is the university belt area in Morayta, Recto, and Mendiola. The old schools are in Taft and Intramuros while the new schools are found in Makati, Alabang and Sta. Rosa in Laguna. Major university towns exist in Baguio, Tuguegarao, Davao, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro.

When a university town is established, the most visible and immediate effect is the rise of various school-related businesses like restaurants, dormitories, gaming shops and bookstores that sell school supplies. The U-belt is not just the site of popular UAAP schools; it’s also famous for its fake diplomas, recycled thesis papers, and very ancient textbook materials. The L-belt in Quezon City (Ateneo, Miriam, UP Diliman), where the biggest concentration of scholars with rebellious and reformist causes is located, led to the transformation of the nearby Philcoa and Teachers’ Villages into the country’s NGO center. Today, university towns also attract call center companies which are always on the lookout for skilled, English-proficient, and healthy young workers.


Some mono towns are able to retain its identity even after their economic fundamentals have changed. Marikina is still known as a shoe country despite the death of the local shoe industry. Its shoe museum is a reminder that it was once a famous exporter of durable and world-class quality shoes. Is the tsinelas industry in Liliw, Laguna still thriving?

The San Lazaro and Sta Mesa horse racetracks in Manila have been demolished already but many people still remember them. What happened to the horses, racetrack workers, and the underground gambling business that flourished before the transfer of the horse tournament in Carmona?

Is the oil depot in Pandacan still operating? Are there still salt-making plants in Las Pinas? Paranaque, then and now, is a bird sanctuary but soon the ‘big birds’ will have to move to Clark airport. Is the ban on tuna fishing in General Santos still in effect? Camanava’s manufacturing belt has been defeated by Calabarzon’s industrial estates but at least it’s still functioning, though it already lost its preferential status. The Cojuangcos couldn’t make up their minds on whether to classify Hacienda Luisita as a sugar plantation, industrial estate, agribusiness center, or gateway to SCTEX.

Muntinlupa’s original ‘loob’ is the National Bilibid Prison; then it became a key manufacturing hub in the Metro. Its subsequent attraction is the Ayala-Alabang gated community.

Camarines Sur is now Camsur which wants to shed its image as a dirt poor province. It somehow worked because it became the country’s top tourist destination in 2009 through its watersports facilities and Caramoan.

The country has numerous tourism mono towns – these are exotic places which are dependent on tourism revenues. Example: Boracay, Panglao, Puerto Princesa, Siargao, Pagudpud, Dakak, Mactan, Malapascua, Coron, Samal. Sustaining a tourism mono town is a challenge for local executives who must strive to balance the preservation of the town’s natural beauty and the temptation to earn more dollar receipts. Baguio and Puerto Galera have miserably failed on this tough balancing act. Manila Bay was once famous for its beaches in Pasay and Tanza but who would dare swim on its waters now?

Mono country

Negros has two provinces but it’s just a very big sugar plantation. For more than a century, the sakadas planted sugar but only the hacenderos became rich. If it decides to diversify its agricultural economy, would it mean the liberation of its farmers?

Tondo has been the home of the poor for centuries and it continued to shelter the dispossessed even after the world-famous Smokey Mountain was cosmetically enhanced. Meanwhile, the nouveau poor reside in Payatas.

Mindanao, the country’s Land of Promise and the former ancestral domain of the Moros, is stereotyped as a violent and mystical island. But the government insists it’s only ARMM which should be categorized as a failed sub-state. Nevertheless, everybody suffers from the little and big wars in Mindanao. If peace is finally attained, would the people easily believe it?

How should the Philippines improve its global image? Economists insist it’s no longer an agricultural nation but a service sector economy. Indeed, it ‘services’ the housekeeping needs of rich nations. It’s an outsourcing mecca and at the same time a sub-contracting state. It’s the home of youtube stars (Charice, Arnel, dancing prisoners) and boxing champions. It’s the global source of raw materials from abaca, coconut, to black coral reefs. It’s the only nation without a divorce law. It was once called by an American commentator as a nation of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch (Marcos). Are we still a nation of cowards who wouldn’t stand-up against a Porsche-riding hacendero president?

There is some hope. We only need to remember our glorious and heroic past. We should accept some tips from the brave Middle East protesters. The communist insurgency in the countryside, probably the world’s longest, should make us realize that the poor folks in the real farmvilles are ready and willing to embrace a new tomorrow.

Related articles:

The new U-belt
Fake capital
Vortex of evil

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