By HENRY EMPEÑO
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Top officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said they are working with neighboring local government units to expand the boundaries of the Subic Bay Freeport and Special Economic Zone in order to accommodate more investments and hasten development in nearby communities.
In a meeting with members of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC) on Wednesday, SBMA Administrator Wilma Eisma said the fenced areas of the Subic Freeport “should be extended” in keeping with the spirit of Republic Act 7227, the law that created the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
“That’s the dream,” Eisma said, referring to the bid to expand the secured area of the free port, which has been defined under RA 7227 and set for implementation under Executive Order (EO) 97-A, as amended by EO 675.
“Fencing outside the existing fenced areas is difficult, but I think it can be done and it should be done,” Eisma added.
The administrator then pointed out that expanding the secured area of the Subic Bay Freeport will work to benefit investors and business locators in the zone, as the tax-exempt provision and other privileges enjoyed by businesses in the zone are applicable only inside the secured area.
SBMA Chairman Diño, who was also present in the meeting with the SBFCC, has likewise sounded the call to expand the Subic Freeport’s metes and bounds upon his assumption to office late last year.
He had said that the SBMA under his administration “will seek to maximize the use of the Subic port and develop more business districts for investors.”
“We should find ways to accommodate more investments because the available area for further development in (the Subic Freeport) is now very much limited,” Diño said in a previous statement.
He added that his office will initiate multi-lateral dialogues with the City of Olongapo, the municipalities of Morong and Hermosa in Bataan, and the town of San Antonio in Zambales to identify areas for possible development.
Several SBMA administrations in the past have voiced out the need to expand the Freeport in view of limited land area for development into industrial estates and commercial centers.
The metes and bounds of the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone as defined under Proclamation No. 532, consisted of a total land and water area of 67,452 hectares, with only about 14,000 hectares forming the fenced area where much development has taken place.
SBMA officials, however, pointed out that out of the total fenced area, only about 2,800 hectares or 20% is developable, while the remaining 11,200 hectares or 80% of the total land and water area consisted of either high slopes, forests, or protected areas.
Under Section 12 of RA 7227, the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone consists of the City of Olongapo and the municipality of Subic in Zambales, the lands occupied by the former US Naval Base and its contiguous extensions within the territorial jurisdiction of the municipalities of Morong and Hermosa in Bataan.
In view of this limitation, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order 675 in November 2007, thus authorizing the SBMA to declare areas outside the former US Naval Base as “additional secured areas” that may be operated as special economic and free port zone under its supervision.
In Wednesday’s meeting, Eisma assured business community in the Subic Freeport that the agency is now working on the expansion plan in tandem with neighboring local government units, and encouraged business locators and investors to share inputs with the contiguous communities.
“At the end of the day, based on the provisions of the law, (the contiguous areas) or parts of those areas are actually part of the Freeport,” Eisma said. “It is very important to work with the local government units within the contiguous zone. So, we are now working on that,” she added.
Photo by JUN DUMAGUING