Battle-scarred no longer, Bataan plays host to Apec meet
THE PHILIPPINES had to endure much during World War II, particularly when Bataan fell to the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942.
When they surrendered to the Japanese, the Filipinos and Americans thought the worse was behind them. They found out that it was but a start of a brutal ordeal. New horrors were unleashed on them, like the infamous Death March and harsh prison conditions.
After rising from the ashes of conflict, Bataan now boasts of a provincial economy that is home to several economic zones. For foreign investors, it has become one of the choice destinations in Southeast Asia.
Stable peace-and-order situation, a welcoming local government, high quality of labor, and competitive business costs are some the reasons why investors are drawn to Bataan.
Now that it is serving as host to two of the year-round high profile meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), Bataan is keen to show to the world that it is no longer the battle-scarred province it once was.
“Bataan offers a lot of business opportunities, and we are excited about the exposure that we are going to get out of hosting the Apec,” Bataan Governor Albert Garcia says.
The economic zones in the province include the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB), the Hermosa Ecozone Industrial Park, the Bataan Technology Park Inc., and part of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
Some of the biggest locators in the economic zones are manufacturers of the luxury bag brand Coach, a manufacturer of Samsonite luggage and travel bags, a leading global producer of tennis balls, and several electronics, wiring, and auto parts makers.
Cheap water, electricity
“The economic zones and the local government units are very supportive of the business sector. The locators are aware of this and they are very happy,” Garcia said.
Because Bataan houses power plants, Garcia said, the provincial government was able to strike a deal with the operators to keep the electricity rates in the province low. According to estimates from FAB, power rates in Bataan are about 40 percent lower than the national average.
And because it houses a water dam as well, the cost of water in Bataan is also much cheaper than the national average.
Deogracias Custodio, chair and administrator of FAB, said that the lower costs of power and water in Bataan are significant factors for locators.
Some existing locators in FAB are expanding operations, while new ones are coming in, he said.
Proof of this is the growing export revenues of FAB locators. From $213.6 million in 2010, the revenues jumped to about $390 million last year.
Revenues in 2015 are expected to be even higher, as the figure already reached $200 million in the first five months alone.
“Businesses are happy with the assistance from local government units,” Custodio said.
In Bataan, he claimed, it is easier for companies to securing business permits, organize job fairs to meet their labor needs, and address their security requirements.
“If a company wants to have a police outpost just outside its facility, it can ask from the local government and have it,” he said.
Quality of labor
Bataan also offers good quality of labor, Garcia said.
Because of its collaboration with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), the Bataan provincial government is able to provide sufficient supply of skilled manpower to its locators.
“Tesda has a regional operation in Bataan. Here, we train people because we know this is crucial for investments and job creation,” he said.
At present, Governor Garcia said, Bataan ranks 6th in the Philippines in terms of human development index (HDI). But by 2020, he said, Bataan aims to grab the No. 1 spot.
HDI is a measure of quality of life that takes into account several factors, including life expectancy, education and per-capita income. Bataan’s HDI currently stands at 0.726 (the perfect score is 1).
“We have the best HDI among all medium-sized provinces in the country, although nationwide we are ranked No. 6. We want to be on the top spot by 2020,” Garcia said.
One of the key strategies to achieve this is to further boost investment promotion. He said economic zones, which offer various fiscal and nonfiscal incentives, are active in wooing even more investors.
“We want the best for our people, and we are committed to the 2020 Vision,” Garcia said.
A great time to host Apec
Eager to market itself to more investors, Bataan officials are grateful for having been chosen one of the Apec host locations.
Representatives of finance ministries of the 21 Apec member-economies, officials from multilateral organizations, and finance experts from the private sector will attend two Apec gatherings in Bagac, Bataan, from June 9 to 12.
During the events—“Workshop on Fiscal Management through Transparency and Reforms” and the “Senior Finance Officials’ Meeting”—policies and programs related to taxation and finance will be taken up.
The events will be held at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage park and hotel that offers glimpse of Bataan’s rich history.
“We have heritage sites, old churches, mountains, beaches, and great food that visitors can enjoy,” Garcia said. “Our goal in hosting Apec is to provide the visitors an experience that will make them come back to Bataan in the future—either to enjoy the tourism destinations or to do business.”
Michelle V. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer