By HENRY EMPEÑO
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT —Subic and Clark, the twin economic zones of Central Luzon, are putting up a collective effort to harness the strategic importance of the former military bases and transform their distinct advantages into an effective platform for greater regional growth and national development.
Recently, officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) expressed their commitment for partnership during the 2017 CIAC Roadshow here and outlined their vision for the next level of undertakings.
And the future, as it was made clear then, would require more cooperation and complementation between the two growth centers.
“As world-class gateways, Clark International Airport and the Port of Subic can and should serve as the twin turbo-engines of growth for Central Luzon—a super duo, if I may call it,” said SBMA Administrator Wilma Eisma.
“President Duterte has always emphasized that he wants to connect Clark and Subic free ports in order to turn Central Luzon into a major logistics hub,” Eisma added. “And this is how it really should be.”
CIAC President and CEO Alex Cauguiran, on the other hand, batted for a better coordination between Clark and Subic, as well as nearby communities, so that they may fulfill their roles in the national development agenda.
He said that as early as six years ago, he was already batting to maximize the use of the airports in Clark and Subic because the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila was already overloaded.
“I said that we should open other airports,” Cauguiran recalled saying. “We should make (the Clark and Subic) airports night-rated, give them entitlement, develop their terminal, and develop their runway.”
Cauguiran added that the government must not only promote Clark and Subic, but the neighboring provinces as well in line with the thrust of the Duterte administration to decentralize development and disperse growth to different regions in the country.
Eisma also pointed out that by synchronizing the operations of the airport in Clark and the seaport in Subic, the two zones can serve the needs of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMs), as well as large manufacturing industries in the region.
At the same time, she said the coordinated activities would spur growth in tourism industries through the efficient movement of people, goods, and services to and from Central Luzon and other parts of the country; and create more employment and livelihood opportunities in the region.
“So as you can probably surmise, our only option is to work effectively, efficiently, and harmoniously together if we are to support and fulfil the President’s agenda for Subic and Clark,” Eisma said.
“Subic and Clark are not competitors, but members of the same national team,” she added,
The complementation should not come as too difficult, because Clark and Subic have always been partners with a purpose.
When they were still military bases that projected the strength and superiority of the United States armed forces into both the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas, the former served as a major base and important air logistics hub for the U.S. Air Force while the latter was a forward base for repair and replenishment of the U.S. Navy’s mighty Seventh Fleet, the largest of the forward-deployed American forces.
Today, after their establishment as separate special economic zones in 1992, Subic and Clark have become major investment centers, the biggest generators of livelihood opportunities in Central Luzon, and prime catalysts of economic development in communities devastated by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.
Together, the two free ports boasted of some $1.18 billion in committed investments in 2016, according to the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council (SCADC), which was created to oversee cooperation initiatives between the two special economic zones.
SCADC also recorded that between them, the two free ports last year generated a total of 205,682 jobs, produced some $4.92 billion in export value, and accounted for 8.15 million tourist arrivals.
The two economic powerhouses were also largely credited for Central Luzon’s 9.5 percent economic growth rate last year—the highest since 2011, which even surpassed the 6.9 percent recorded for the national economy in the same period.
At the same time, Central Luzon registered a gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of P773.28 billion in 2016, which substantially increased by P67 billion over the P706.34 billion output the previous year, according to figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Individually, the two special economic zones have also recorded their best undertakings in 2016.
CIAC President and CEO Alex Cauguiran said that Clark, which is increasing the number of airlines using its facilities, has been ranked as the 15th best among the top 30 airports in the whole of Asia.
Clark, he added, has been also ISO certified, thereby increasing its appeal as the choice airport for Northern and Central Luzon areas. “We are closer, convenient, cheaper, secured, clean and friendly,” Cauguiran said.
He said the airport now connects to local destinations like Davao, Cebu, Kalibo, Caticlan, Puerto Princesa, Busuanga, El Nido and Balesin, and to international gateways like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Busan and Incheon in Korea, as well as Dubai and Doha in the Middle East.
CIAC is also negotiating for flights from Clark to Beijing, Shanghai, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Los Angeles.
In Subic, the SBMA seaport similarly posted positive figures: a 9 percent increase in revenue in the first quarter of this year, as the Q1 2016 figure reached P309 million, compared to the P282.7 million posted in Q1 2016.
SBMA Administrator Eisma said that an increase in volume of both containerized and non-containerized cargoes, which was recorded at 33,031 TEUs and 1,826,519 metric tons, respectively, made up for a slight slack in ship calls in the same period.
Eisma also cited a 7.59 percent increase in revenue from P676.3 million in Q1 2016 to P727.6 million in Q1 2017, a 148 percent increase in net income from P18.8 million in Q1 2016 to P46.7 million in Q1 2017, a 24.84 percent increase in cash and investments, and a total of P1.42 billion in new investments as of February this year.
With sound economic fundamentals and positive business indicators in recent years, both Subic and Clark are eyeing greater roles in the national development agenda.
In Clark, Cauguiran said CIAC is developing an ambitious plan to increase airport capacity from the current 4.2 million passengers per annum to 8 million in the first expansion phase, 22 million in the second phase, 46 million in the third, and 80 million in the ultimate phase.
The project, he added, would entail constructing new passenger terminals; building new access roads, ramps and taxiways; expanding freight and cargo facilities; and building a second and third runways.
The project, Cauguiran added, would enable Clark to service from 22 to 23 million people from Regions I, 2 and 3, as well as the Cordillera Autonomous Region by the year 2022.
Meanwhile, a private company has drawn up plans for the Global Gateway Clark project, which will be located at a 177-hectare area managed by the Clark Development Corporation, which covers the tourism and techno-industrial areas at Clark Freeport.
The $5 billion project, according to Michael Russell, president of the Global Gateway Development Corp., will be composed of four zones: the Aeropark, which will take in research and development firms, and information technology ventures, BPOs and educational institutions; Business Park, which will have the prime lots for retail companies, as well as pocket gardens and residential units; Town Center for retail establishments; and the Logistics Park for warehousing, distribution and light manufacturing concerns.
Completion of the Gateway Park project is scheduled along a 7 to 10-year timeline, with about 300,000 jobs to be generated upon full operations, Russell also said.
In Subic, meanwhile, the SBMA’s building program will include a $40-million upgrade of the Subic Bay International Airport; a $120-million proposal for the expansion of Subic’s bulk cargo-handling facilities; $200-million expansion of the New Container Terminal; $232-million bypass road from the Subic Seaport to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx); and the $40-million widening of the Tipo Road leading to Subic Freeport.
The Subic agency also seeks to re-establish the Subic Bay International Airport as a world-class facility; expand Subic’s depots and logistics facilities; implement the Luzon cargo railway project; and extend the Freeport land area in cooperation with concerned local government units.
Eisma said these projects are designed to further improve Subic’s capacity and attractiveness as a free port and special economic zone, improve its synergy with Clark Freeport, and help bring the two economic zones to the next development level.
TOP PHOTO: The Subic-Clark -Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) has trimmed travel time between the Subic and Clark free ports to just 45 minutes