Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Bataan free port to emerge

The province of Bataan is optimistic that Congress will pass a bill converting the Bataan Export Processing Zone into a special autonomous economic zone similar to that of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia told reporters that the Lower House had approved the bill that seeks to create a special autonomous administration in the province.

Senator Richard Gordon, who was founding chairman and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, has sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

Garcia said the bill would remove the current export processing zone from the supervision of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority and make the area function similar to the SBMA, which has a separate charter.

He said he was optimistic the bill would get the nod of the bicameral committee, which would consolidate the versions of the Senate and the Lower House when Congress resumes session in August.

He said Malacañang and Trade Secretary Peter Favila had backed the creation of a separate charter and the redevelopment of the zone into an autonomous body.

“We are very optimistic especially after the recession. We are hoping we could convince investors to help in the redevelopment of BEPZ. Bataan and the national government would each be putting equity as well,” said Garcia.

The BEPZ is the country’s first economic zone but the entry of militant labor groups in the ’70s and the lack of port facilities have kept it from taking off, unlike the three other public zones administered by Peza.

The three are the Baguio City Economic Zone, which is home to Texas Instruments, the Cavite Economic Zone and the Mactan Economic Zone.

“BEPZ was not run well by Peza so we want to have the opportunity to take a shot at it,” said Garcia.

Once the bill is passed, he said the BEPZ will be outside of Peza administration. President Arroyo will appoint the head of the zone, while the province of Bataan, the district and town would each be represented in the zone’s board of directors.

“We want it redeveloped similar to Subic Bay. There is no port yet and there is no feasibility study as of this time but the fact that it is within Manila Bay makes it very attractive to prospective locators,” said Garcia.

He said the site of the proposed port had a depth of 60 meters capable of accommodating Panamax vessels.

Garcia said it would take less than two days to upload in Bataan because of existing automatic conveyors.

He said the ecozone had a total area of 600 hectares, with just 25 percent occupied.

He said a lot of locator companies had shut down operations over the years, with majority of the locators as garments manufacturers.

“We are proposing to redevelop BEPZ to be attractive for retirement villages as well as for agricultural processing companies,” said Garcia.

San Miguel Corp.’s B-Meg plant, the biggest in Asia, operates in the vicinity.

He said San Miguel’s plans to put up a food city in the area would bolster interest among prospective locators.

Garcia said the redevelopment of BEPZ could host prospective locators, which could no longer be accommodated by Subic because of the lack of space within the free port. By Elaine Ramos Alanguilan - Manila Standard Today

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