Executive Director's Corner

Ilocos Region, its future


Ilocos Region, its future

/ 12:36 AM April 18, 2016

THE ILOCOS Region comprises four provinces—Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan—and nine cities— Alaminos,  Batac, Candon, Dagupan, Laoag, San Carlos, San Fernando, Urdaneta and Vigan.

It has a land area of 1.3 million hectares, of which agriculture occupies 271,000 ha, comprising temporary crops (82 percent) and permanent crops (8 percent).

The region had a population of 4.75 million in 2010. Ilocano speakers compose 66 percent of the region and Pangasinan speakers, 27 percent.


Ilocos accounted for 3.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013.

Agriculture and fishery comprise about 26 percent of GDP.  There are almost two million employed, 33 percent are in agriculture and fishery.

The Ilocano farmers are among the most productive in the country.

The harsh and forbidding topography and terrain have been on an anvil of adversity that the IIocano has honed his fabled virtues and skills (Fernandez, http://lynchlibrary.pssc.org.ph/).

Why am I writing about Ilocos Region when I am not a native?

I have deep Ilocos connections. My wife’s mother hailed from Salomague, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur (the Bacligs and Savellas), and  father, from Sinait, Ilocos Sur (the Chans and Reyeses).

They migrated to Davao City in the 1950s. More than that, I have been in and out of Ilocos Norte for the past two years. (Disclosure: I am an economic adviser to Mayor Eddie Guillen of Piddig, Ilocos Norte, a UA&P Executive Program alumnus).

Poverty reduction

Poverty in Ilocos at 18.5 percent is far lower than the national average of 25.2 percent in 2012.

Special citation would be Ilocos Norte at only 9.9 percent.

Ilocos has the fourth lowest poverty incidence (headcount) among 17 regions and registered the third fastest reduction since 2006 after Mimaropa and Caraga (both with high starting poverty rates of over 40 percent).

Agriculture is among the most productive in the nation. In 2015, palay and corn yields are higher than the national average.

The same is true for tobacco, carabao mango, eggplant and tomato. Bangus fish cages and ponds in Pangasinan supply Manila.


Ilocos is known for Vigan Heritage Village, Pagudpud beaches, Bangui wind farms, old churches, and Hundred Islands.

Its potential has yet to be reached given its proximity to Northeast Asia:  Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

The highlands of Lammin, Piddig, Ilocos Norte, have yet to be developed as a “summer capital.”

There is a good opportunity for linkages with agriculture, such as diversified fruit farming, fish cage culture and food processing.


Accenture, a global Consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, is expanding its footprint  with a new delivery center based in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte.


The road network is very good. I travelled  the scenic Laoag-Claveria, Cagayan road in 2014.

In renewable energy, Ilocos Norte has already windmill farms in Burgos by Energy Development Corp. and Pagudpud (North Luzon Renewable Energy)  aside from Bangui (Northwind Power).

There is also the newly inaugurated solar power plant in Currimao (Soleq Philippines).

Ilocano  Diaspora

The diaspora is a source of remittances and visitors. There are about nine million Ilocano speakers in the Philippines (or nine percent of the total population), and only half reside in the region.

Ilocos has the highest “other sources” of income (41.3 percent), outside wages and salaries (37.3 percent) and entrepreneurial activities (21.4 percent) as compared to the national average of 32.8 percent. (2012, NSO).

This can be attributed to remittances.

Ilocos Norte alone has an estimated remittance inflow of P18 billion a year (http://ilocosnorte.gov.ph/invest/potentials).

Since the 19th century, the Ilocanos have been migrating from their homeland.

By the early 1900s, more than 290,000 Ilocanos migrated to Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley and Manila.

More than 180,000 moved to Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija.

Almost 50,000 moved to Cagayan Valley; half of them resided in Isabela. Around 47,000 lived in Zambales.

The first wave of Ilocano migration to Hawaii was in 1906 to 1919. It comprised more than 29,800, mostly males. Most of the  migrants worked in sugarcane plantations. The second wave (1920-929) was the largest migration in Hawaii of about 74,000 Ilocanos.

From 1930 to 1934, an estimated count of Ilocano migrants reached around 14,760. This decrease was inflicted by stringent US quota stated in the Tidings-Mcduffie (Philippines Independence Act). (http://www.ilocanopeople.com/)

Later migrations brought Ilocanos to the Cordilleras, Aurora, Mindoro, Palawan, and Mindanao provinces of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, South Cotabato and Davao.

Ilocano-settled towns in Mindanao include Kabacan, Cotabato and Kiamba, and Maitum, Saranggani.

Where is the future heading?

First, in agriculture, it is time to develop high-value crops, including heirloom rice, for export to North Asia.

Partnership with the Taiwanese, the neighbor to the north, is one option.  Crop diversification is key.

The highlands can be planted to Arabica coffee, berries as well as vegetables.

Given the rising shortage of labor, farm consolidation is a good avenue to achieve scale and productivity.

Second, the local government units are looking at tourism as the next frontier. It is the right path given its proximity to North Asia. It is diversifying—beach, heritage, nature and agri-tourism.

Third, marine cage culture for high-value fish can be expanded beyond milkfish of western Pangasinan.

Fourth, with the extension of the North Expressway to La Union and Pangasinan, the two provinces will be linked to Clark International Airport.

San Fernando (La Union) will be only 196 kilometers  away (less than three hours), and Dagupan 132 km (two hours) away.

Ilocos Norte and Sur are linked to Laoag International Airport.

The future is bright with good local governance and support from national leaders.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.  The author is the vice chair of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the executive director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected].  For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph.

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