11 June 2010

Subic investors vow support for Noynoy

Subic Bay Freeport investors vowed Thursday to support incoming President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III as they banked on him to follow through on all his major campaign promises with emphasis on the reduction of corruption and the enforcement of stricter policies on duties and taxes.

“We know that he is strict on human rights, against graft and corruption and will try to lower taxes. He also promised to go after smugglers and tax evaders. So all of those will be good for the Freeport,” said Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC) President Danny Piano.

The SBFCC is the largest and most influential business group inside the 67,000-hectare Freeport, where some 1,258 companies are located as of February this year.

Piano, who runs a US firm creating digital content for clients, said that they hope Aquino will enhance business policies, but also "generally leave business alone."

“Subic Bay will grow in the next 5 to 10 years whoever is the president," Piano explained. But a better policy regime, he noted, would mean "faster growth compared to a regular incline."

The SBFCC supports Aquino’s plan to stamp out corruption and Subic Bay can easily be a model for the rest of the country.

“Graft and corruption also exists here but not comparable to other areas. I am hoping that it can be totally eliminated here,” Piano explained.

Piano said businessmen at the Subic Bay freeport are very willing to give Aquino a "free hand" as they also want a smooth and orderly transition of leadership.

Records of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the government agency in charge of the freeport zone, showed that over the last five years, investment generation has been on a roller coaster ride.

Freeport chief Armand Arreza said that investment growth was 20% annually from 2006 to 2008, but this slowed down to 2.5% in 2009.

The zone’s total workforce grew to 87,000 workers but fell short of SBMA’s target of 100,000 workers by 2010. Exports were also lackluster, amounting to only $1.079 billion, some $400 million short of the $1.5-billion target.

South Koreans have been the single-biggest contributor to new money inside the zone with the entry of shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industry Corporation (HHIC), which poured in some $1.6 billion during the last 4 years.

But Aquino, who promised more transparency, better government service and a serious fight against corruption, may be challenged by a full plate of controversial projects beginning with the $130-million Harbor Center project and a mall project of Ayala Land Inc.

Several locators here accused SBMA of virtually creating a cargo handling monopoly with the Harbor Center agreement, something that Arreza denied. Cases have already been filed in courts. (Jonas Reyes, Manila Bulletin)