Ecozones touted as means to mitigate global recession impact

By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave | BusinessWorld
January 4, 2023


THE impact on the Philippines of the impending global economic slowdown can be mitigated by developing more economic zones (ecozones), the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) said.

PEZA Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Tereso O. Panga said more ecozones are in store with the release recently of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028 by the National Economic and Development Authority.

“Ecozones can be shields to soften the landing (amid) all these global disruptions… ecozones can (also) be drivers to accelerate economic recovery and growth,” Mr. Panga said in a statement on Wednesday.

“With the inclusion of the ecozone development program, we are positive that more ecozones will be approved and created especially in the countryside,” he added.

The PDP formally directs PEZA to execute the ecozone transformation roadmap. It also provides for the amendment of Republic Act No. 7916 or the PEZA Law, to facilitate the digitalization of the registration process for ecozone locators and the promotion of co-located industry and services entities in knowledge, innovation, science, and technology parks.

“The creation of ecozones will be within the existing investment promotion agencies to maximize investments and promote industrial dispersion especially outside metropolitan areas,” according to the PDP.

“Further, the ecozones will be integrated into the local economy by relaxing the requirements, facilitating the free flow of parts, components, and other inputs, and increasing open trade between zone locators and firms outside the zones,” according to the plan.

PEZA said it approved 29 ecozone development projects worth P96.21 billion in 2022, of which 11 were registered in the first six months of the Marcos administration.

By far the largest approved investment is a mixed-use special ecozone for manufacturing and tourism in Pangasinan worth P81.648 billion.

“Of the total approved ecozone projects, 13 were information technology (IT) parks and centers, 12 were manufacturing ecozones, two tourism, one agro-industrial and one mixed-use for manufacturing and tourism,” PEZA said.

“To date, there are a total of 421 PEZA ecozones nationwide hosting 4,346 locator companies and creating 1.8 million direct jobs,” it added.

PEZA is hoping to grow ecozone investment by 10% in 2023.

A total of P140.7 billion worth of investment was generated in 2022, up 103.03%.

“With our enhanced investment laws and strengthened ecozone development programs, we remain bullish that we will be able to jumpstart the economy and keep up with the strong competition worldwide,” Mr. Panga said.

PEZA added in a separate statement that Mr. Panga is ready to step down as OIC once President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. appoints a new PEZA Director-General.

PEZA leadership was thrown into turmoil last year when former Director-General Charito B. Plaza contested Mr. Panga’s designation as OIC.

Four PEZA employees filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against Mr. Panga for his alleged “usurpation of authority and violation of Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”

In a statement responding to the complaint, PEZA said: “Being the most senior career executive and next in rank officer of the agency, the bases of the designation/assumption of the OIC are Office of the President’s Memorandum Circular (MC) Nos. 1, 3 and 9… This is further bolstered by MC No. 12 recently issued by Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin for the OIC’s continuance in office until the President appoints a permanent one.”

“The PEZA Management Committee, its employees and ecozone stakeholders fully support the OIC to lead PEZA. The OIC, as he has said time and again, is ready to step down as OIC when President Marcos Jr. appoints a Director-General of PEZA,” it added.

Amando Virgil D. Ligutan, legal counsel for the complainants, said in a statement that the PEZA employees decided to file their case with the Ombudsman to consolidate both criminal and administrative charges.

Mr. Ligutan alleged that Mr. Panga terminated contractual employees while other employees were demoted and transferred to “far-away” ecozones after being identified as “supporters of Ms. Plaza.”

“The oppressed PEZA employees initially lodged their complaint with the Civil Service Commission, but they opted to withdraw it and filed instead its case with the Ombudsman,” Mr. Ligutan said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave