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Senate oks bill strengthening Freeport Area of Bataan on third reading

MARIVELES, BATAAN, Philippines – Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) chairman and administrator Emmanuel Pineda (center) shows Senator Win Gatchalian and Bataan 2nd District Rep. Joet Garcia (left) some products made by established foreign brands whose manufacturing facilities are located at the 1,600-hectare Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) during a site visit and courtesy call at the AFAB office, 27 July 2018. The lawmakers are seeking to further strengthen the powers and functions of AFAB. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS Win Gatchalian

A bill sponsored by Senator Win Gatchalian that seeks to further strengthen the powers and functions of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) has secured the nod of the Senate on third and final reading.

Senate Bill No. 2133, or “An Act Further Strengthening the Powers and Functions of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan,” recently sailed through the Senate after gaining overwhelming support from lawmakers.

Gatchalian said the bill seeks to maximize the potential of the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) as an investment destination.

“The FAB has contributed not only to Bataan’s economy but also to the entire country over the past few years,” Gatchalian said. “From 2010 to 2016, the FAB was able to contribute more than Php74 billion to the Philippine economy, net of costs. In other words, the government has gained Php6.45 for every peso it has spent or foregone on the FAB.”

“But this is just a snapshot of its potential,” he added. “We are now getting close to unlocking the full potential of the FAB as an investment destination, now that the Senate has approved the bill on third and final reading.”

In a nutshell, SBN 2133 seeks to clarify and expand the FAB territory to create opportunities for more investment portfolios to come to Bataan.

The FAB is spread over an area of 1,600 hectares, although much of this is not ripe 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 FAB will now include the land territories in the Municipality of Mariveles that used to form part of the Bataan Economic Zone (referred to as the “FAB Main Zone”), as well as the rest of Mariveles not covered under the FAB Main Zone, all other expansion areas, and all municipal waters within the FAB Main Zone (referred to as the “Other FAB Zones”).

According to Gatchalian, 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.

In filing the measure, Gatchalian noted 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 reportedly 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.