Intended to be the lynchpin of our city’s economic take-off PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 12:46

LOOKING IN

BY ROD BALBON

The late Mayor Caling Lobregat must now be turning in her grave. Back then as the city’s lone representative, she lobbied and worked very hard for the creation and passage of her pet bill creating the Zamboanga Economic Zone and Freeport Authority. She believed that its creation will be the lynchpin of our city’s economic progress and development and eventually of our region.

But with its creation up to the present, this pet project of hers has miserably failed to live up to its grandiose plan and expectations. The persons who were appointed to head this ecozone, from the beginning up to the present, have failed to attract local and foreign investors to set up their business and industries in this place. The last time I could recall, only three companies were enticed to put up their business in the zone.

t’s a pity that with their failures, the ecozone is now bastardized that instead of attracting manufacturing companies and new industries, a swimming pool was instead constructed. As if this is not enough, the LTO Office was allowed to establish their office there, to include their impounding area for vehicles violating traffic rules to serve the West Coast. Lately, the Philippine Coast Guard and the PNP SAF were also given large areas to establish their stations and headquarters there. Its good, the planned hospital and housing village, to serve foreign retirees, were not established.

This is really ridiculous. One can readily say that these structures should not be built there as they don’t serve the purpose in the creation of the ecozone. They don’t create massive employment and generate huge income for the city and the region, thus, totally defeating the noble purpose of our late and beloved Mayor Caling. In a nutshell, it has not improved our city and region’s economic condition.

Why can’t this ecozone attract investors? If I recall, it has spent large amount of government money to invite investors by conducting several sales promotions by sending a delegation to nearby Asian countries, bringing with them beautiful and colorful videos and information leaflets of the ecozone and Zamboanga City. But nobody took their bait. Investors are more interested in hearing what benefits and incentives awaits them once they established their business and industries here. I remember clearly in 1999, I was requested by Lepeng Wee, then appointed by President Erap as Consultant of Mindanao Economic Affairs, to accompany the sons of Malaysia’s Prime Minister and the latter’s political and economic adviser. We went to the ecozone incognito for security reasons. Incidentally, then Ecozone Chairman and President Manny Dalipe was absent and we were conducted to his assistant. I introduced them incognito and as prospective Malaysian and Singaporean investors. After the introduction, my special guests disclosed to her of their proposal to construct a five-star hotel within the ecozone and an 18-hole golf course to be established in the entire San Ramon Penal Colony area, knowing of our city’s plan to transfer it to the East Coast. They were dampened when the lady assistant could not clearly assure them of the present and future rate of a square meter in the area and other vital information relative to their plan. Other information given was topsy-turvy. We were treated coldly, perhaps she was thinking who are these crazy persons talking about such grandiose plan. Truth was, they came over in response to the sales promotion the ecozone conducted in Malaysia.

We went back to Garden Orchids Hotel for the evaluation of their intended project vis-à-vis with the information given them by the ecozone, over cups of coffee. The first thing they asked me was “Hey Drigo what is this. Are they serious in developing the zone?” I was tongue tied and couldn’t give them the answer. They left and nothing was anymore heard about their plans.

Personally, up to now I haven’t heard of the numerous attractive incentives that the zone is giving to prospective investors. Does the zone have all these? This is very important in the wake of the implementation of the TRAIN law which has raised taxes and found to be detrimental to businessmen and manufacturers. Very recently, PEZA Administrator Charito Plaza aired her serious concern that investors in their zone might leave and transfer to other countries because of this TRAIN law and the absence of more attractive incentives to counterbalance this new tax law.

New and more attractive incentives must be planned and implemented by the Zamboanga Economic Zone together with the Department of Finance. Failing in this, the zone will remain a total failure—a white elephant and a waste of public money.