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Subic bucks perk for Bataan port

Vol. XXII, No. 36 [ BusinessWorld Online ]
Monday, September 15, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

THE SUBIC BAY Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) opposes the proposed exemption from wharfage fee in a bill pending in the House of Representatives that seeks to covert Bataan’s Port of Mariveles into a special economic zone and freeport, making it a direct competitor of Subic.

The measure, House Bill No. 1425, was authored by Bataan Rep. (2nd district) Albert S. Garcia.

Ruel John Kabigting, officer-in-charge of SBMA’s business and investment group, said exempting the Port of Mariveles from wharfage dues would lead shipping firms and businesses to prefer that port rather than Subic Freeport, and, consequently, would "seriously affect and prejudice its [SBMA’s] capability to pay" its ¥16.45-billion ($149.545-million, or P5.875-billion) loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

"If we activate this provision of exemption from wharfage fees in the Port of Mariveles, we [Subic] will lose our revenues [due to lost business]. We will have difficult time paying this loan. We are not exempt from wharfage dues. We are collecting them from port users. This is our only objection to this bill," Mr. Kabigting said in a hearing last week.

The JBIC loan was used to build the new 600,000 20-feet equivalent units (TEU) container terminal. Listed International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) is operating the first berth. SBMA will start paying its loans in 2010.

"Right now, we are already marketing this port and having difficulty convincing shippers and manufacturers to use the Port of Subic. We are [working] double time so we can meet our obligation to JBIC," Mr. Kabigting said.

"This is one of our sources of revenues. We are essentially a harbor. Our target is to be a maritime hub in the Southeast Asian region."

Mr. Garcia said the Bataan port has been operating since 1969, but its development has been stalled since 1986.

"It was placed in the backburner. That is when all these new freeports and economic zones emergedIt will be more disadvantageous for Bataan if we create something less than a freeport. With proximity to SBMA, investors will have to compare incentives and other attractions to these free ports. All the more we have to level the playing field and give these incentives to the Bataan economic zone," he added.

Noting the long impasse in the development of the Port of Mariveles, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) deputy director general Mary Harriet O. Abordo said in the same hearing that "the creation of the Bataan economic zone was not PEZA’s choice. If it were my choice, as an ordinary citizen, I would not have probably put an economic zone or a freeport in that area unless the government was already committed to fund itThere was no infrastructure to speak of in that place to begin with." — R. A. M. Rubio

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