Philippine Daily Inquirer - - REGIONS - By Melvin Gas­con @melvin­gas­conINQ

BAYOMBONG, NUEVA VIZCAYA— Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba on Fri­day urged the newly in­stalled ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Cagayan Eco­nomic Zone Au­thor­ity (Ceza) in Santa Ana town, Cagayan prov­ince, to re­view al­leged ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in Ceza oper­a­tions.

Lawyer Raul Lam­bino took his oath as Ceza ad­min­is­tra­tor on Mon­day and an­nounced plans to re­pair Port Irene, the main port of the Cagayan Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) in Barangay Casam­balan­gan, by dredg­ing its heav­ily silted seabed and by build­ing more wharves to ex­pand its ca­pac­ity.

Eco­nomic growth cen­ter

He vowed to trans­form the 54,000-hectare CSEZFP “into a bustling eco­nomic growth cen­ter and tourist des­ti­na­tion and a ma­jor trans­ship­ment and lo­gis­tics hub in north­ern Lu­zon.”

But Mamba said Lam­bino needed to stop “all il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties and cor­rup­tion al­legedly per­pet­u­ated by the past ad­min­is­tra­tion.” He also asked Lam­bino to re­assess the vi­a­bil­ity of Port Irene as an in­ter­na­tional port.

“Bil­lions of pe­sos in pub­lic funds have been poured into Port Irene, for which only a pit­tance was de­rived by gov­ern­ment in the last 23 years of its ex­is­tence. Trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in its op­er­a­tion are se­ri­ously de­manded,” he said.

In 2013, the sale of se­cond­hand ve­hi­cles at the Cagayan free port was stopped af­ter the Bu­reau of Cus­toms (BOC) clamped down on the trade by re­fus­ing to is­sue im­port per­mits for their re­lease and reg­is­tra­tion.

Se­cond­hand ve­hi­cles

The BOC had cited a Supreme Court rul­ing that nul­li­fied an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that Ceza used as ba­sis for the im­por­ta­tion. About 900 se­cond­hand ve­hi­cles im­ported from Ja­pan and South Korea re­mained parked at a 5-hectare depot in Casam­balan­gan fol­low­ing the BOC ac­tion.

Port Irene was also the site for ship­ping mag­netite sand, which was stopped in 2014 fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Chi­nese com­pa­nies that were ear­lier granted per­mits to ex­tract black sand from the coastal and river­bank com­mu­ni­ties of north­ern Cagayan.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment records, th­ese com­pa­nies shipped out more than 2.4 mil­lion tons of mag­netite from Cagayan to China through Port Irene from 2009 to 2014.

Two of CSEZFP’s big­gest li­censees for its gam­bling oper­a­tions—Eastern Hawaii Gam­ing and Leisure and Meri­dien Vista Gam­ing Corp.—have been dragged in law­suits and in­ves­ti­ga­tions over al­leged money laun­der­ing and il­le­gal oper­a­tions.

Santa Ana Mayor Dar­win Tobias, who sits as Ceza board mem­ber, said Lam­bino should look into the al­leged mess that was left be­hind by his pre­de­ces­sor so he could “start with a clean slate.”

“He should be wary whom he trusts (within Ceza) be­cause there are some peo­ple there who are be­hind all the anom­alies that had hounded the agency for many years,” he said.

‘Free of cor­rup­tion’

“As Pres­i­dent Duterte’s per­sonal choice, I will lead by ex­am­ple and turn the [CSEZFP] into his vi­sion of a vi­brant eco­nomic growth cen­ter that is ef­fi­cient and clean and free of cor­rup­tion,” Lam­bino said in a state­ment.

He said he would up­grade power sup­ply and in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity at the free port and put up a “rail­way align­ment from Tugue­garao to the town of Lal-lo and to Santa Ana for both com­muter and cargo ser­vices link­ing up with the rest of Lu­zon.”

The CSEZFP spans the whole of Santa Ana as well as the is­lands of Fuga, Barit and Mab­bag in Aparri town.

“Its strate­gic lo­ca­tion at the north­ern tip of Lu­zon’s eastern se­aboard, along ma­jor in­ter­na­tional ship­ping routes, could eas­ily make the free port a ma­jor trans­ship­ment and lo­gis­tics point for trade in the Asia-Pa­cific Rim,” Lam­bino said.


Port Irene be­came con­tro­ver­sial in 2013 af­ter the Cus­toms bu­reau stopped the sale of se­cond­hand cars, like this BMW sports car, from the Cagayan port.

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