Ecozones spark regional growth: Cebu vs Iloilo

By Francis Allan Angelo

What makes Cebu tick in the Visayas region?

The numbers from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) tell it all.

To date, PEZA has registered 48 ecozones in Cebu province with 640 locator companies generating PhP275.3 billion in cumulative investments resulting in 232,076 directly generated jobs, and churning out US$5.9 billion annual average exports.

Moreover, PEZA locators alone in Mactan island such as the Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ) I and II, Cebu Light Industrial Park, Jpark Island Resort and Waterpark, and Mactan Newtown remitted a total PhP267 million in tax payments last year from the 2% gross income tax share of the Lapu-Lapu City government.

Compared to Cebu, Iloilo province has far richer resources and can be at par with other regions in the country in terms of manpower.

But when it comes to substantial and game-changing investments from both domestic and foreign investors, Cebu is a mile away.

So far, Western Visayas where Iloilo belongs has a combined 24 economic zones, per PEZA data, mostly in information technology and a handful in manufacturing, agro-industrial, and tourism.

In 2019, Iloilo City lone district Rep. Julienne L. Baronda filed House Bill 5794 seeking the establishment of the Metro Iloilo Special Economic Zone (MILOECOZONE) and Freeport Authority.

MILOECOZONE covers public and reclaimed lands along the coastal side of La Paz district from the Iloilo International Port in Brgy. Loboc to Barangays Hinactacan, San Isidro, and Ingore up to Barangays Bitoon and Balabago in Jaro District.

But the bill appears to have been stuck in the legislation phase, despite support from the PEZA.

Iloilo province’s first ecozone is a 5-floor information technology-business process outsourcing (IT-BPO) facility in Pavia. But as to the manufacturing sector, Iloilo province has yet to exploit its potential.

As early as 2018, the Iloilo provincial government named the towns of Miag-ao, Dumangas, Leganes, Concepcion and Passi City as potential ecozone areas.

But Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr himself said that other towns still face the challenge of improving their utility services and systems to attract businesses in their localities.

“We have to start with the fundamentals, [like] power, internet connectivity, and other utilities. Once you have that, then you are, for a great part of it, ready to invite business, because [ecozones] are a privilege granted by the national government. If you have the environment, the facilities, and the infrastructure, it will be easier to lay down,” the governor said.