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San Miguel to build Bulacan airport despite veto of economic zone bill

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

SAN MIGUEL CORP. would proceed with building an international airport north of the Philippine capital even after a presidential veto of a bill that would have created a special economic zone there, the company said on Monday.

“San Miguel remains fully committed to continuing on its path of growth through nation-building, and building the New Manila International Airport — seen as the solution to decades of air traffic and land congestion that have severely limited the country’s growth,” it said in a statement.

Filipino billionaire and San Miguel President Ramon S. Ang said the government stands to lose $200 billion (P11 trillion) in yearly export revenue from the planned economic zone that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. rejected.

“We respect and abide by the government’s decision,” he said in the statement. “We thank him for recognizing where the proposed Freeport bill can be further improved, and we look forward to working with his administration towards perfecting this.”

Mr. Ang expressed optimism that the vision for the ecozone could still be realized after the presidential veto “given the many benefits it will bring to the country.”

He said the state could reap about $200 billion in export revenue annually from potential foreign investors in the aviation, manufacturing, technology, education, healthcare and tourism industries.

“We are eager to continue working with government and play an active role in helping our country reach its goals — as we have faithfully and consistently done,” he added.

In his veto message last week, Mr. Marcos said the bill, which gives tax incentives to ecozone locators, would “significantly narrow” the country’s tax base. He added that it is not “aligned with the government’s objective to develop a tax system with a broad base and low rates.”

Eligible enterprises outside economic zones could apply for tax perks provided by a Singapore-inspired tax law that significantly cut corporate income tax, he added.

Mr. Ang said the ecozone would be managed by the government and any tax incentives to be given to investors would still pass through the Department of Finance’s Fiscal Incentives Review Board to ensure these are aligned with the 2021 Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) law.

He said the ecozone’s long-term benefits far outweigh any supposed “losses” due to the incentives.

San Miguel, one of the country’s biggest and most diversified companies, is investing P740 billion to turn a 2,500-hectare property in Bulacan province into an aerotropolis featuring a world-class gateway that can handle 100 million passengers yearly.

“Among our plans for the ecozone is to help create science and technology export hubs with the cheapest logistics cost, because these will be close to the airport and seaport,” Mr. Ang said.

“We are looking to attract world-class semiconductor manufacturers, battery power storage system manufacturers, electric vehicle makers and even modular nuclear power assemblies and other new and emerging tech industries,” he added.

Another reason cited by Mr. Marcos for the veto is the Bulacan ecozone’s proximity to the special economic zone in Clark, Pampanga.

But Mr. Ang said there’s a considerable distance between the two. Large and progressive cities all over the world have multiple airports, such as Tokyo and New York, he added, noting that Clark is about 100 kilometers from Metro Manila.

He said the government should anticipate the long-term population and economic growth of Metro Manila and the main island of Luzon in the next 20-30 years and take into consideration the limited expansion opportunities for the current gateway, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

NAIA has space for only one runway operating at any given time, compared with the Bulacan airport’s four parallel runways, he added.

“The country would need several airports to efficiently serve Filipinos, tourists, and industries,” he said.  “What we don’t want is to repeat the mistakes of the past where we were not quick enough to develop new infrastructure, giving rise to overcapacity and congestion on our aging roads, ports and other facilities, and even in our skies.”

Analysts at the weekend mostly welcomed the veto, saying it sent a message that public interest should trump business gains.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Palace said Mr. Marcos is still open to supporting the ecozone once lawmakers fix the “defects” of the bill.

“We understand the feelings of disappointment, but this is the stand of the President: Let’s fix this now, so we don’t wait for it to be challenged later on,” Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles told a news briefing.

“It is his commitment to sharpen the law, so when this is indeed passed, then he can fully support it.”

Also on Monday, Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said the House of Representatives would require a cost-and-benefit analysis of the proposed Bulacan economic zone and will introduce safeguards to address Mr. Marcos’ concerns.

“As early as now, I am telling potential investors and other proponents to give us a sense of their plans so that we can already weigh the costs versus the benefits,” he said in a Viber message. “What I can assure the President and the public is that we will make sure that the concerns in the veto message are addressed.”

Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, who is poised to lead the Senate majority, made a similar assurance. The Senate would “give due priority in correcting the deficiencies pointed out by the Executive department,” he said in a Viber message.

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