Saturday, 18 July 2009

Philippines' Muslim region set to name its first economic zone

R. S. Sarmiento

GENERAL SANTOS CITY — Efforts have shifted to high gear to proclaim a coastal portion in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as the impoverished region’s first economic zone, officials said.

Ishak V. Mastura, ARMM deputy executive secretary, said in an interview that regional Gov. Zaldy U. Ampatuan is expected to declare the village of Polloc in Parang, Maguindanao as a special economic zone.

"Within the special economic zone is the Port of Polloc which will be declared as free port. We’re eyeing the declaration in August," Mr. Mastura said on the phone.

Should Polloc be finally declared an economic zone, it will come six years after the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly formed the Regional Economic Zone Authority (REZA).

Mr. Mastura, when he was still ARMM Trade secretary, had blamed lack of funds for the failure of REZA to discharge its duties, thus the delay in the declaration of Polloc as ecozone.

Last May, Mr. Ampatuan formed the REZA management committee that has been given P12.5 million in initial funding.

Its first goal is to work out the declaration of Polloc as a special economic zone.

There is, however, the need to greatly improve Polloc port if it will be designated as a freeport, since the facility is in bad shape, having been built 30 years ago, officials admitted.

Among others, the port lacks water supply and lighting, many of its facilities are inoperative, and the port’s generator is missing.

Still, the move to declare Polloc as a special economic zone has gained the backing of the business sector in the area. "We cannot afford to delay the proclamation," said Datu Haron U. Bandila, ARMM Business Council chairman.

Perks enjoyed by ecozone locators in the country include income tax holiday of four years which is extendable to eight years, after which a special 5% tax on gross income will be paid in lieu of all national and local taxes.

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