Locators: Proposed ecozones’ real challenge
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - February 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Three decades ago, as a young professional, I had the opportunity to work with a world-renowned auditing firm. Together with the other youthful and aspiring Certified Public Accountants, gathering valuable experiences were our priorities, not salaries. Full of idealism, it was always our preference to audit companies that were not just big but were also using new technologies.

With this preset objective then, all eyes were just staring in one direction, the Mactan Export Processing Zone (now, Mactan Economic Zone I). Honestly, it was then a struggle to get one very sound experience as there were just a handful of companies operating at the zone. In fact, some companies were just occupying a few hundred square meters for their operations in a MEPZ-owned factory building.

Thus, it was then customary that most of us tried to squeeze ourselves among exposure-thirsty audit staffs and fought for a slot just to get audit experiences in such prominent companies (inside MEPZ) like TMX Phils., Inc. and Fairchild Semi-conductor Inc. Notably, these were the first two real foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the Province of Cebu.

Today, like Metro Manila, Cebu is a haven of FDIs. Thus, those who may wish to gather adequate experiences will have so much on their plates. Undeniably, these FDIs provided employment not only for Cebuanos but for opportunity seeking Filipinos all over the country as well.

Obviously, however, these zones are concentrated in the metropolis (or near the metropolis) or in the major cities where the appropriate infrastructures (like international seaports and airports) exist and the needed support facilities (like reliable hospitals and safe and comfortable shelters for expats) are adequate.

So that, it is so heartwarming that a top official from the Philippine Economic Zones Authority (PEZA) is aggressively campaigning for the development of economic zones in the countryside. It is also noteworthy that after observing that only a few cities and provinces in the country host economic zones, PEZA Director-General Charito Plaza, last week, “called on the local government units (LGU) to identify areas within their jurisdictions that may be converted into economic zones” to spur development in their localities.

To emphasize its significance, PEZA, in cooperation with the Department of Interior and Local Government organized a technical planning workshop on special economic zones development mapping for LGUs. It was said that last week’s workshop was “aimed to help development and planning officers to be focal persons focusing on identifying, designing, and master-planning the potential economic zones of LGUs.”

This initiative is truly laudable. However, initiatives like these are not something new. Probably, the only difference is that LGUs are now involved in identifying the possible zones.

To recall, President Fidel V. Ramos signed into law Republic Act No. 7916 (amended later by Republic Act No. 8748) in 1995. Specifically, in Section 5 of this act, some areas in the countryside were already initially identified as possible economic zones. These identified areas cut through several provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. In Central Visayas, for instance, a portion of Lapu-lapu in the Island of Mactan, and the municipalities of Balamban and Pinamungahan and the cities of Cebu and Toledo and the Province of Cebu were singled out. Likewise, a portion of Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental were also identified.

So, we may ask.  Since 1995 until today, have we successfully developed economic zones in Pinamungajan and Toledo?  By the same token, have we also successfully developed economic zones in Dumaguete City or anywhere in Negros Oriental? The answer is a big “NO”.

The reasons are too obvious. First, the lack of infrastructure. These places are far from an international port. If they have to go by land to the international port, the roads are narrow and traffic jams are horrible. Moreover, the health care facilities for expats are so inadequate and unreliable.

Yes, as reported, such realities were considered in last week’s workshop as they, together with representatives from the national government agencies, sat down and tackled their needs in infrastructure, transportation, power and water utilities, and telecommunications.

However, these efforts, though significant, are not enough. The real challenge really is finding locators in the economic zones. With the locators in existing zones raising hell against the TRAIN’s second package for trivializing their current incentives and are threatening to leave, can we expect new entrants to come and locate in these proposed economic zones?


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