The Senate and the House of Representatives have approved a measure that will further strengthen the powers and functions of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB).
The bicameral conference committee, headed by Senator Win Gatchalian and Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, agreed to adopt the Senate version of the bill, which went through a fine-tuning process during the pre-bicam stage to ensure the measure’s compliance with new policies of the Department of Finance (DOF) regarding fiscal incentives.
“The pre-bicam was a very critical activity because we incorporated a lot of the comments of the Department of Finance,” Gatchalian said. “As we all know, the DOF has a different view in terms of fiscal incentives.”
“In order to pursue this measure for the benefit of the people of Bataan, we incorporated all of the comments and suggestions of the Department of Finance,” he added.
Senate Bill No. 2133, or an “An Act Further Strengthening the Powers and Functions of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan,” which is sponsored by Gatchalian, seeks to clarify and expand the FAB territory to open more investment portfolios and opportunities for Bataan.
At present, the original proclaimed area of the Freeport Area of Bataan is over 1,600 hectares. However, much of these area is not fit for development due to its mountainous nature. Of the 456 hectares that are considered developed, 355 are occupied, leaving only 101 hectares for further development.
Under the proposed amendment, the current FAB territory will now include the rest of the Municipality of Mariveles outside the former, and its municipal waters. The bill would also expand it to include alienable and disposable public lands and municipal waters of the expansion areas.
The bill will also allow AFAB to create the best model business center and one-stop shop for locators by giving AFAB certain powers within the FAB territory and unburdening other government agencies. This one-stop shop approach is designed to improve the ease of doing business and reduce bureaucratic burdens on investing and doing business within the FAB.
To balance the grant of additional powers to AFAB and as a good governance measure, the bill provides for the separation of the roles of the Chairman and Administrator of AFAB.
During the bicameral conference committee hearing, Gatchalian highlighted the potential of the FAB as an investment destination and in addressing poverty in the area.
From just 33 registered enterprises with P5 million in committed investments in 2010, Gatchalian said the number of enterprises in the FAB grew to 130 in 2018, with a total of P6.99 billion in committed investments.
The FAB has also created 39,266 jobs for Bataan residents as of December 2018, a three-fold increase from 12,777 in 2010. The lawmaker said this increase in employment was instrumental in helping bring down Bataan’s poverty incidence among families to 1.6% in 2015 – one of the lowest in the country – from 5.9% in 2009, when AFAB was established.
Gatchalian said the FAB is expected to create at least 66,476 jobs for the people of Bataan, while the national government stands to earn an estimated P7.6 billion in revenues from FAB in a span of five years, starting in 2020, once the measure is signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“AFAB has really contributed not only to the country, but most importantly to the people and the province of Bataan,” the senator said. “(That is why) we decided to pursue this measure. (However), we also recognize the new policy of the Department of Finance when it comes to fiscal incentives.”
“A lot of these provisions are really geared towards complying with the requirements of the Department of Finance,” he added. “We would like to ask for the support of the Department of Finance in making sure that this bill will get the stamp of approval of the good secretary.”