Interview: Lilia B de Lima and Roberto Garcia

Following the formation of export-processing clusters, how can economic zones transition into alternatives for urban and leisure development?

LILIA B DE LIMA: In the past, the dominant trend has been migration to urban centres and cities due to limited job opportunities in the provinces. With our economic zones spread all over the country, we are bringing jobs to the people, encouraging them to stay within their provinces. As the population of people working in economic zones expands, more areas become an attractive market for various businesses and establishments such as restaurants, hotels, schools, commercial centres and other service providers, which in turn creates more jobs.

This stimulates economic activity in an area, thus uplifting the standard of living for the population. Former third-class municipalities have evolved into first-class municipalities because of these clusters of development created by the presence of economic zones throughout the country.

To complement this growth, PEZA has the flexibility to create economic zones (ecozones) anywhere in the country, generating private sector-developed, operated, and maintained areas, which in turn act as pockets of development. The 314 existing PEZA ecozones throughout the Philippines operate at no cost to the government, freeing limited public resources to be used for other infrastructure projects that will help to strengthen the viability of ecozones as an investment alternative to urban centres.

We also promote the Philippines not just as a place to do business but also a place of relaxation and enjoyment, where you can mix business with pleasure. This is why many of our ecozones are surrounded by world class recreational areas like gold courses, country clubs, entertainment and commercial centres.

ROBERTO GARCIA: The main strategy of most ecozones has been centred around attracting more industrial presence to fully maximise use of available land. Even so, we recognise the potential of leisure centres, particularly in Subic, catering to the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions market. For example, we have experience hosting the 1996 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and its strategic location only 45 minutes away from the Clark International Airport (CIA). Subic Freeport would be particularly suited to capitalise on these market trends.

To maximise the potential for the tourism sector, ecozones should enhance their entertainment infrastructure. For instance, Subic has developed five major theme parks specifically targeting eco-tourism given its geographic and environment surroundings, while also increasing investment in infrastructure related to the convention centre. Moreover, the ecozone has maintained high standards in order to ensure locators are non-pollutants to avoid detracting from the eco-tourism potential of those areas. This policy will help the development of eco-tourism sites. Indeed, Subic also intends to maintain its thousands of hectares rainforest or else only accept a location that would not disturb or destroy the ecosystem.

TUGADE: This can be done through early planning and deliberate allocation of areas for the intended mix of land use and provision of the necessary connectivity and utilities. While the initial thrust for CIA was also as a base for manufacturing activities, CIA is now much more than an export processing centre.

The ecozone has everything that an investor needs within about seven to 10 minutes driving time: an international airport, commercial centres, golf courses, government offices, schools, hospitals and churches. It is a safe and secure place with century-old trees and lots of open spaces. It has several facilities for conventions, with one having a sitting capacity of 1700 and a total hotel accommodation in the zone of 1900. Clark’s successful hosting of the first APEC Senior Officers’ Meeting during January and February 2015 attests to the fact that the ecozone has successfully transitioned from being a mere export processing zone to a complete urban and leisure estate.