Chinese investors eyed for proposed ecozone in Surigao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 May) — Chinese investors are being eyed for a proposed ecozone in Bislig, Surigao del Sur.

Rep. Johnny Pimentel of the 2nd district of  Surigao dl Sur, principal author of House Bill 2672 filed in August last year, said the creation of the Special Economic Zone in Bislig City will “drive employment and consumption growth and overall economic expansion” in Mindanao in general and Caraga region in particular.

“We are hoping to attract Chinese investors to build factories in the economic zone, considering our government-to-government as well as people-to-people relations with China have warmed up owing to President Duterte’s independent foreign policy track,” Pimentel, chair of the Committee on good government and public accountability, said in a press release.

“We need new investors, especially in highly labor-intensive industries, to provide thousands of good-paying jobs and raise the living standards of a greater number of families in Mindanao,” he said.

The bill, however, is still pending at the House Committee on Economic Affairs.

Located some 208 kilometers northeast of Davao City, Bislig was the location of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP), once the largest integrated wood and paper milling company in Southeast Asia.

PICOP started as Bislig Industries, Inc. in 1952 and was renamed into PICOP in 1963. It shut down operations on October 31, 2001.

Bislig, one of two component cities of Surigao del Sur, along with Tandag, the provincial capital, is in Caraga Region, which comprises the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.

Pimentel said it is necessary to put up new economic zones “to assure the more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth through balanced economic growth.”

He said locators at the economic zone shall enjoy income tax holidays and waiver of taxes and duties on imported capital equipment and machinery, among other financial incentives.

Foreigners who invest at least $150,000 (P7.4 million) in cash or equipment in any enterprise located in the economic zone shall also enjoy visa and residency privileges, along with their immediate family members.

HB 2672 proposes the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in Bislig or Bislig Ecozone, which will be managed and operated by the Bislig Special Economic Zone Authority or BSEZA.

According to the website of the House of Representatives, HB 2672, referred to as “Bislig Economic Act of 2016,” was filed by Pimentel on August 8, 2016 and has been pending with the Committee on Economic Affairs since August 15, 2016.

The bill provides that foreign citizens and companies owned by non-Filipinos “in whatever proportion may set up enterprises” in the Bislig Ecozone, “either by themselves or in joint venture with Filipinos in any sector of industry, international trade and commerce.”

The Bislig Ecozone, according to HB 2672, “shall be managed and operated as a separate customs and taxation territory ensuring free flow or movement of goods and capital within, into and out of its territory.”

Among the incentives to registered enterprises are income tax holidays from the start of their operations until four to six years, or even up to eight years.

The BSEZA board shall be composed of the Chair, who shall also serve as the Administrator; the Vice Chair who shall come from the among the members of the Board.

The Board members include the congressional district representative and the mayor of Bislig City as ex officio members, and one representative each from the city council, domestic investors, foreign investors and from the labor sector to be chosen from the workers in the Bislig Ecozone.  (MindaNews)