By Bebot Sison Jr. (The Philippine Star) Updated February 03, 2010 12:00 AM
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) will push through this year with its expansion program for communities adjacent to the Freeport zone.
“We expect a jump in investments this year, but most of these will no longer be inside the fenced-in area of the Subic Freeport,” SBMA administrator and chief executive officer Armand C. Arreza told The STAR.
“We will be moving most of the investments we can generate this year to the new frontiers, which are composed of neighboring areas in Olongapo City, Subic town in Zambales, and Morong and Hermosa towns in Bataan,” he added.
“Finally, we shall be realizing this year the SBMA vision to spread development, and directly benefit our partners in the neighboring communities,” Arreza said.
To carry out the expansion program, Arreza said the SBMA is awaiting the release of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) so that it could start processing investment proposals intended for neighboring areas.
The IRR, which has reportedly passed the scrutiny of agencies like the Bureau of Customs, governs the flow of goods and services in the areas qualified for tax- and duty-free privileges as provided for under Executive Order 675, signed by President Arroyo on Nov. 5, 2007.
Arreza also said under the expansion program, the SBMA is eyeing $3 billion in investments that are expected to start their initial development this year. These include the resort projects of Korean firms Neocove and M Castle, as well as the re-development project of Ayala Land Inc. in the Subic Freeport and Olongapo City.
Aside from attracting big-ticket projects by both foreign and Filipino companies, Arreza stressed that the SBMA expansion program would level the playing field for local entrepreneurs.
“We have been receiving concerns from Olongapo businessmen that they don’t enjoy the same privileges given to foreign investors,” Arreza noted. “Now, this program will give them the same opportunity, as long as they invest.”
He said aside from corporate incentives like those given to any Subic Freeport-registered businesses, the SBMA may also grant personal incentives like tax-free dividends, a scheme that is popular in the United States.
He added the Olongapo City government may endorse its City Mall project near the Subic Freeport main gate to qualify for the program.
At the same time, Arreza urged local government units in the area to extend their support to the SBMA in crafting a new master plan that would synchronize development in the Freeport and the neighboring areas.
“If we don’t come up with a new master plan, and development remains an individual effort among communities, then in about 20 years we will have a chaotic situation here,” Arreza warned.
The SBMA proposed the expansion program last year due to the limited area for industrial use in Subic. Arreza said the problem could be resolved by developing additional industrial estates along the corridor between the Subic and Clark free ports.
He added that by developing new industrial estates, the SBMA can hope to increase the Freeport’s workforce to 150,000.
The SBMA expansion also calls for the development of parks and leisure resorts in the coastal area of Minanga in Morong, the Cawag area in Subic town, and Barretto in Olongapo City, as major tourist resort destinations.
Arreza said new investors who locate beyond the fenced-in area of Subic, but still within the Subic Special Economic and Free Port Zone (SSEFPZ), will still enjoy tax- and duty-free privileges.