President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will fully support the establishment of a special economic zone and freeport adjacent to the proposed airport city in Bulacan province once Congress “corrects” provisions that pose substantial fiscal risks to the country, Malacañang said Monday.
In her first regular Palace press briefing, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the President was committed to efforts “to sharpen the law” that he vetoed in a letter on July 1.
“We understand their 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,” Cruz-Angeles said.
She made this remark after Senator Imee Marcos said that while her brother’s veto might drive away foreign investors, the measure could face further delays if its constitutionality were challenged.
“Well, the Palace merely says that the law has to be sharpened. We have to [anticipate]… possible constitutional challenges on this one. It will cause further delays if the law is challenged and invalidated. So, this is the best way to address the problems, the innate problems of the House bill, and it gives an opportunity for the legislature to make those corrections,” she added.
Cruz-Angeles could not say if the bill would be certified as urgent.
Senator Marcos, as chairman of the Senate committee on economic affairs in the 18th Congress, sponsored the passage of House Bill (HB) 7575 or the proposed Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport Act.
She earlier expressed concern that a veto might force foreign investors to think twice about investing in the Philippines. However, she said she recognizes the President’s authority to veto any proposed law.
In his veto message, Marcos rejected HB 7575 because of its provisions that “pose substantial fiscal risks to the country” and its “infringement on or conflict with other agencies’ mandates and authorities.”
“At the foreground, fiscal prudence must be exercised particularly at times when resources are scarce and needs are abundant. While this administration recognizes the objective of the proposed measure to accelerate economic growth in its locality, I cannot support the bill,” he said in a letter dated July 1 and addressed to the Senate President and House Speaker.
Marcos said the enrolled bill “lacks coherence with existing laws, rules, and regulations”, noting that it has no provisions for an audit by the Commission on Audit, procedures for expropriation of lands awarded to agrarian reform beneficiaries, and a master plan for the specific boundaries of the economic zone.
He added that the proposed measure grants the proposed economic zone authority “rule-making powers relative to environmental protection that are not found in the charter of other economic zones,” as well as “blanket powers to handle technical airport operations in contravention of existing aeronautical laws.”
Marcos said the proposed economic zone is located “in close proximity” to the Clark Special Economic Zone, which is “against the government’s policy on creating special economic zones in strategic locations.”
Incoming Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they will give priority to the Bulacan freeport bill that Marcos vetoed.
“Of course, we will give it due priority, correcting the deficiencies pointed out by the executive department,” Zubiri said.
He also said the Senate can report the bill even without the House bill being transmitted to the Senate.
“It has just been a practice here in the Senate to wait for the House bill,” he said.
Senator Joel Villanueva, who comes from Bulacan, vowed to re-file the measure, adding that the President’s concerns would definitely be considered in drafting the revised bill.
He said lawmakers are willing to work with Malacañang in ironing out a better version of the proposed Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport Act or House Bill 7575.
The chairman of the House committee on ways and means, Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, meanwhile, assured the President that they ill require a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed economic zone and will introduce safeguards to address his fiscal and economic concerns.
“While I was not one of the original proponents of the vetoed bill, I hope to help move this bill forward by filing a corrected version,” Salceda said.
“The President’s concerns are valid, so we have to take heed.”
On fiscal incentives, Salceda said they would propose that the bill explicitly state that the ecozone will be fully subject to the rules, procedures (including approvals), and regulations under Title XIII of the Tax Code (CREATE Act).
“We also propose explicitly stating that the power of the ecozone authority to grant incentives shall be a delegated power from the Fiscal Incentives Review Board. This would address the President’s concern about the lack of coherence with existing laws, rules, and regulations,” he said.
Salceda added he is proposing a version that removes the “extraordinary powers” from the authority’s control.
Also on Monday, an environmental group welcomed the President’s veto.
Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, said the group had been opposed to the Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport, citing environmental concerns.
In an interview with ANC, she said the planned ecozone “destroys the remaining mangrove forest in Manila Bay.”
“There was even no approval and consultation with stakeholders and departments concerned, that’s why this Bulacan airport is facing so many problems,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English.