Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ecozone in a Dark Zone

Congressman Marcelino Libanan should be hailed to high heavens for coming up with the proposal to establish a Special Economic Zone and Free Port in the Eastern Samar towns of Guiuan, Mercedes, Salcedo and the islands of Homonhon, Manicani, Suluan and Calicoan. According to a Samar Times report, the “zone will be developed and operated as an industrial, commercial, investment, recreational and tourism facility and free port…envisioned to transform Eastern Samar into a vibrant economy by encouraging investments in the province, providing jobs for the people, thus improving the quality of life of Estehanons.” Whether this is viable or not given the present conditions of Eastern Samar it is hard to tell for now. But having to conceive such a grandiose plan is good enough. Samar needs politicians who are planners and visionaries beyond the self-serving and myopic parameters of 2004 elections.


As of March 15, 2003, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PIZA) lists 28 approved/proclaimed Special Economic Zones. Although most of these are in the provinces in Luzon, ecozones are strategically spread in several regions throughout the country. In Region 8, three are listed but only in Leyte: 1) Amihan Woodland Township in San Isidro and Calubian Leyte by MRC Allied Industries Inc., with a total land area of 2,312.69 hectares; 2) Leyte Industrial Development Estate in Isabel, Leyte by the National Development Corporation with a land area of 424.70 hectares, and; 3) Eastern Visayas Regional Growth Center in Tacloban City by the City Government with a land area of 31.93 hectares. The Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 explicitly identifies the municipalities of Catarman, Bobon and San Jose in the Province of Northern Samar as Ecozones. (cf. Section 5, Special Economic Zone Act of 1995). Surprisingly enough, we do not hear an ecozone cooking up in these municipalities today.


Among the major criteria for the establishment of a Special Economic Zones is the availability of stable electric power supply (cf. Section 6. Special Economic Zone Act of 1995). This is where the rub is. Eastern Samar, in fact the whole island of Samar for that matter, does not have a reliable electric power supply that will not drive you to nuts. No investor, foreign or local, in his right mind will try his luck investing in an area where brownouts are as frequent and as damaging as the daily supply of shabu. In Eastern Samar, you have to switch on your fluorescent lamp as early as four in the afternoon or else you are in darkness the whole night. Electric power on this part of the equator goes with the sun. When it sits for the evening, the power rating also drops--even as low as 150 watts. It was good that we have Christmas lights twinkling at home last December. These were the only bulbs ESAMELCO was capable of lighting. I heard the electric cooperative in Eastern Samar is as calamitous as typhoons and conflagrations. To date it has already destroyed home appliances, communications and media facilities, and electronic installations, which may run into millions if aggregately appraised.


Nobody knows when will the Special Economic Zone and Free Port in Guiuan be approved and realized. In the meantime, I would rather that Congressman Libanan dip his finger into the power problem of Eastern Samar. Given a stable electric power supply, every municipality in the province will become an “economic zone” albeit their own way.

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