BEHIND THE LINES: The future PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 16 March 2015 11:19

BY BOB JALDON

 

San Jose, CA. — In 1997, former Zamboecozone Chairman Manuel A. Dalipe delivered a speech before businessmen and professionals at the Executive Hall of the Garden Orchid Hotel and described the special economic zone in San Ramon as the “economic surge that will bring rapid prosperity to Zamboanga and Mindanao.”    Almost 20 years have passed and that mighty economic leap has not happened yet because of two factors: absence of an international port and unstable power supply.

In an effort to bring in investors/locators, Dalipe wrote to dozens of big industrial companies making hay in Manila and Cebu to look at Zamboanga’s special economic zone and free port that’s offering incentives like no other city did. Some replied with “let’s see” and some actually invested, but closed shop after a few months. We would have opened two duty-free shops, but it was determined that the characters of the locators were untrustworthy.

That same year, then President Fidel V. Ramos, after an aerial inspection of the complex and avoiding diplomatic complications and total collapse of Zamboanga’s spirits, pronounced that while Pagadian city was the new capital of Region 9 as decreed by former President Corazon C. Aquino through Executive Order No. 429, Zamboanga city will be the “Industrial Center” of Western Mindanao (Zamboanga Peninsula, or Region 9). Ramos also ordered the release of P50 million as start-up budget for the Zamboecozone.

And so it passed that Dalipe lost his job in 2001 and a nurse by profession took his place. The priorities and targets weren’t met. First, an eco-park rose that included a 10-pin bowling center and swimming pools. There were some capitalists who came and went. It would seem that big investors were hard to come by because of the two constraints that I mentioned. There’s a third one, if I may add: unstable peace and order conditions. Because of its “in-out” nature of operations, industries will require a port to ship in raw materials and ship out finished products. To run their factories, they will need steady, uninterrupted and affordable power (at least cheaper than what they’re paying to electric companies in Manila, Cavite or Cebu).

But for almost 20 years, the handlers of the “economic miracle” haven’t been able to contract a private contractor, if not convince the Department of Transportation and Communications to allocate funds, to build a seaport.

In the early goings of the Zamboecozone, an Iranian-American Alber Duc Menesian, offered to set up a power plant inside the zone. But his proposal never left the box because of some capitalization ambiguities. Like a poor sparrow perched on a power line, it was shot down. Attorney Vic R. Solis is well aware of this.

I don’t know what great ambitions the board of directors had for the Zamboecozone, but it would have been better if they instead thought small. I’m not quite sure what they have inside the zone now. What I know is that a multi-million-peso power company will become (or is already) the biggest investor thereat. I know that the same company has already paid a year’s rental amounting to P10 million to Zamboecozone.

Esta bien, amigos. Not quite. Its entry into Zamboanga as a power supplier with affordable rates and assured, sustained electricity for 25 years, at least, is being blocked by certain individuals within the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Zamcelco), our power firm, that’s dying to be powered up with funds or face bankruptcy. Those who are in possession of Zamcelco’s financial journal can attest to that fact.

Let me explain the wisdom in President Ramos’ declaration in 1997. During his incumbency, the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East-Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) was conceived to boost trade, economic and cultural exchanges and advancement amongst the four countries that are also members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). I remember being a member of the first trade and cultural mission to Labuan and Kota-Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia together with Zamboanga manufacturers and exporters. The head of our delegation as then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Paul Dominguez.

Zamboanga and Davao cities, as proposed, would be the two gateways to the Philippines — Zamboanga being close to Malaysia and Davao’s proximity to Indonesia. The Zamboanga port would be used as springboard for goods leaving the Philippines and recipient of imports from Malaysia as will be in the case of Davao and Indonesia. The goods coming in would be stored in warehouses at the Zamboecozone known as the Customs Clearance Area (CCA). The problem is that we didn’t (and still don’t) have a commercial seaport big enough to accommodate the big cargo vessels coming in and out of Zamboanga.

Let me explain further. Having a seaport would have prepared Zamboanga to be a major player in the organization known as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), then known simply as ASEAN conceived by the great diplomat Carlos P. Romulo. Starting last January 1, the 10-member countries began a year-long process to “liberalize and integrate their economies by providing the free movement of goods, investments, services and manpower.” Had we built a seaport in San Ramon and invested in power in the 90s toward to 2000s, we could be an important player in this new trade and economic group.

If we had these two crucial infrastructures in place, the investments at the Zamboecozone by now would have been immeasurably enormous. Our government could use the already existing BIMP-EAGA pathway to economic success. Come to think of it, Zamboanga is nearest the nine other members of AEC, including Australia.

Sadly, our economic managers most of the time think and act like politicians. That’s why we’re not getting anywhere. It’s time (long overdue) for Zamboecozone to plan for the construction of a seaport in San Ramon and for Zamcelco management to make a cost-benefit analysis on the existence of a power plant instead of asking for advice from engineers and college professors who don’t have the right answers all the time on how to run our electric cooperative.

Having an international seaport and an embedded power plant in Zamboanga, solely for Zamboanga, that will energize our economy and power industrial growth, is to make President Ramos’ pronouncement and Mr. Dalipe’s statement a reality.