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Is Santo Tomas to Become Batangas’ Fourth City? Revisiting Ralph Recto’s Senate Bill 3025

Along Maharlika Highway, Santo Tomas, Batangas. Image credit:  Google Street View.

Santo Tomas is Batangas’ northernmost municipality, the province’s gateway to Laguna and, subsequently, Metro Manila. Before the construction of the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) and the Alabang-Calamba-Sto. Tomas Expressway (ACTEX), a road trip from the south of Batangas to Metro Manila involved a laborious crawl along old roads through Malvar, Tanauan and Santo Tomas and then onto Makiling in Laguna before one could gain access to the Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

The poblacion or the old town center in Santo Tomas has changed little and retains much of its rustic charm. It is through the diversion road on what used to be the town’s outer fringes and particularly along Maharlika Highway, which leads to Lucena, that Santo Tomas has undergone a phenomenal urban transformation.

Along this stretch of road are business establishments, banks and branches of nationwide food chains that attest to Santo Tomas’ bustling local economy. An industrial park has attracted multinational locators and upscale subdivisions have sprung up all around the municipality.

Thus, in the present day, one finds in this once sleepy old town many features and amenities one usually associates with cities. Santo Tomas, it seems, has outgrown its municipal status.

Senator Ralph Recto, for one, certainly thinks so. On the 7th day of December 2015, Recto introduced to the Sixteenth Congress of the republic Senate Bill Number 3025 calling for the conversion of the Municipality of Santo Tomas into a component city to be known as the City of Santo Tomas.1 The bill has been read and referred to the Committee on Rules and its current status is still pending.

Just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, a component city is one that does not meet the criteria for Highly Urbanized Independent Cities such as Manila, Cebu and Davao. Cities such as these have population counts of at least two hundred thousand and its citizens are not required to vote for any provincial officials.

In contrast, component cities are those which are considered components or parts of the provinces to which they belong. Consequently, their citizens vote for provincial officials apart from those who compose the city government.2

Recto’s bill described Santo Tomas as the “gateway to the provinces of Quezon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Sorsogon, where the Southern Luzon Expressway and Maharlika Highway merge. Santo Tomas is sixty kilometers from Manila and is the town that separates the provinces of Laguna and Batangas.”

Under the provisions of the Local Government Code of the Philippines, a municipality may be converted into a component city if it meets certain conditions. First, the municipality must have an “average annual income, as certified by the Department of Finance, of at least ₱20,000,000 for the last two consecutive years based on 1991 constant prices.”

Second, it must have “a contiguous territory of 100 square kilometers, as certified by the Land Management Bureau” or “a population of not less than 150,000 inhabitants, as certified by the National Statistics Office.3

According to Recto’s bill, the Bureau of Local Government Finance has certified that Santo Tomas is “a first class municipality with an average annual income of ₱105,475,443.83. This amount is more than five times the minimum required amount for cityhood, albeit at 1991 levels.

The bill also said that the Land Management Bureau has certified Santo Tomas’ land area to be 10,032.3767 hectares or 100.3238 square kilometers. This is somewhat in conflict with the 9,541 hectares given by Philippine Statistics Authority in 20074. Because the second criterion for cityhood is qualified by an “or,” the matter is rendered moot by the municipality’s present-day population.

As per the 2015 Philippine Census of Population, Santo Tomas has 179,844 inhabitants. It is the third most populous city or municipality in Batangas and, in fact, has even more inhabitants than the neighboring City of Tanauan, which has 173,366 people.

Of Batangas’ other municipalities, Nasugbu, San Juan, Rosario, Lobo, Calaca, Calatagan, Lemery and Balayan all have bigger land areas than Santo Tomas. In terms of the required population, however, only Nasugbu comes close with 133,113 inhabitants as per the 2015 population census.

All of these except Lobo and Calatagan are considered as First Class Municipalities with income at least ₱65.6 million annually5. What Santo Tomas has over the other municipalities is its location, which allows it to catch spillover economics from the neighboring cities of Tanauan and Calamba and probably even Metro Manila.

Will Santo Tomas, then, be Batangas’ fourth city? Most indicators seem to say it will, but the ball is still at the Senate.

Notes and references:
1 Converting the Municipality of Sto. Tomas in the Province of Batangas into a Component City to be Known as the City of Sto. Tomas, Senate Bill 3025 authored by Senator Ralph Recto, December 2015, online at the Senate of the Philippines official web site.
2 Cities of the Philippines, Wikipedia.
3 The Local Government Code of the Philippines, online at the Chan-Robles Virtual Library.
4 Municipality/City: Santo Tomas, online at the Philippine Statistics Authority web site.
5 Municipalities of the Philippines, Wikipedia.

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