Bataan rising

Published July 6, 2020, 10:00 PM

by J. Albert Gamboa

Occupying the entire Bataan Peninsula along the western coast of Central Luzon, the province of Bataan is strategically located between Manila Bay and the West Philippine Sea. It is a vital cog in the Metro Luzon multi-region encompassing Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and the Clark-Subic economic zones with a combined population of 42.4 million and a total GDP of US$206 billion as of end-2019.

In Philippine history, Bataan is known as a symbol of freedom and democracy, notably for the battle between the Filipino-American resistance forces against Japanese invaders during the Second World War. The heroic Fall of Bataan has been immortalized through a towering memorial cross on Mt. Samat called “Dambana ng Kagitingan” or Shrine of Valor, the focal point of the annual national holiday commemorating Bataan Day every April 9.

While Bataan’s historical significance is embedded in the collective memory of post-war generations, its role in our economic resurgence is only starting to be recognized. Credit this to a new generation of leaders headed by Bataan Governor Albert S. Garcia, who recently unveiled a 100-year sustainability plan for the province.

Several engines of growth are emerging across the peninsula. These are Bataan Technology Park and Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the west; Hermosa Ecozone Industrial Park in the north; Mt. Samat Flagship Tourism Enterprise Zone in the central portion; Limay Industrial Estate and Government Arsenal in the east; and the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) in the south.

Congress passed Republic Act No. 11453 last year strengthening FAB, formerly the Bataan Export Processing Zone, into a freeport and special economic zone. On the other hand, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), an attached agency of the Department of Tourism, endorsed the historic Mt. Samat shrine complex as TIEZA’s second integrated and master-planned flagship zone in Luzon.

Not many people are aware that the municipalities of Morong and Hermosa in Bataan are part of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone that also covers Olongapo City and the town of Subic in Zambales province. This used to be the biggest American naval base outside the continental US.

Meanwhile, the municipality of Limay has an industrial park that is home to petrochemical firms such as the subsidiaries of Petron Corp. and Philippine National Oil Co. Also located in Limay is the Government Arsenal, a 370-hectare industrial estate operated by the Department of National Defense that manufactures ammunition for the country’s military and police services.

Gov. Garcia’s sustainability plan prioritizes infrastructure, with the government planning to build the Bataan-Cavite (BatCav) link bridge crossing Manila Bay that will eventually connect to Batangas, Bulacan and the National Capital Region. The BatCav Bridge will emanate from FAB’s transshipment hub in the town of Mariveles.

During the current pandemic, the provincial government signed an agreement with the Filipino-Japanese team of iWave Inc. to implement a quarantine monitoring system for probable, suspected, or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bataan. The deal involves a mobile app, GeoTime, which utilizes facial recognition and geofencing to monitor, track, and manage persons who need to be quarantined.

Another top priority is education, and based on data from the Department of Finance, Bataan’s local government unit has the highest spending per public school student among all 81 provinces of the Philippines.

Given its ecosystem where education, infrastructure, and technology converge, Bataan is geared to become the Filipino equivalent of the San Francisco Peninsula in Northern California which has played a pivotal role in the rise of Silicon Valley as a global center for high-tech innovation, social media, and venture capital.

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