By Mario Casayuran
The 24-member Senate has approved on third and final reading a bill seeking the creation of a Regional Investment and Infrastructure Coordinating Hub (RICH) of Central Luzon designed to bring in jobs and capital to the region and help decongest Metro Manila.
Senate Bill No. 1997 was authored and sponsored by Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon, and Government Corporations and Public Enterprises committees.
Co-authors are Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon.
Apart from Gordon, Zubiri and Drilon, the bill was also co-sponsored by Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Loren Legarda, Sherwin T. Gatchalian and Nancy Binay.
The measure received 18 affirmative votes, no negative votes and zero abstention.
“The name of the bill reflects its aim to enrich the people by encouraging and promoting investments and infrastructure in Central Luzon, as well as addressing bottlenecks, laying the foundation for long-term growth in the region, creating jobs and improving the quality of life of Filipinos,” Gordon said.
Under the bill, the new Regional Investment and Infrastructure Coordinating Hub (RICH) would replace the existing Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council.
The hub would be composed of nine members.
Citing how the La Guardia, JFK and Newark airports as well as the ports authority of New York and New Jersey in the US helped promote economic and business opportunities, Gordon said that the RICH bill seeks to create a similar boom in Central Luzon, which is also strategically near Manila and has excellent infrastructure from interconnecting roads to airports and seaports.
He said the RICH bill is envisioned “to maximize the presence of the Subic, Mariveles and Manila seaports along with the airports and the North Luzon Expressway, TPLEX, SCTEX and Olongapo-Gapan Highway to enhance business and employment opportunities, which in turn, will serve as a model for the rest of the country.”
Another key goal of the bill is to decongest Metro Manila, by “dispersing industries and population to Central Luzon,’’ he explained.
Gordon lamented that at present, the country’s capital has become very congested with its heavy population and traffic.
He pointed to the embarrassment caused by the inoperative runway at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport last August.
To help address the problem, Gordon said that the proposed RICH would help develop sustainable communities where residents live near their places of work, schools, hospitals and other key areas, so they “would maximize their disposable income, need less time for travel and have more time for their families.”
Gordon noted that the RICH bill is supported by governors, mayors and other local officials from Bulacan, Pampanga and Tarlac, and that counterpart versions of Senate Bill 1997 are currently pending in the House of Representatives.