J. ALBERT GAMBOA (Business World) May 28, 2018

Ahub for fintech and crypto companies is rising in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP), located at the northeastern tip of Luzon.

Korean investors are planning to set up a blockchain university at the CSEZFP that straddles the municipalities of Santa Ana and Aparri in northern Cagayan province. These developments came to fore at the two-day investment summit hosted by Cagayan Economic Zone Authority ( CEZA) at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig last week.

CEZA Administrator and Cabinet member Raul Lambino announced that the first 15 locators consist of offshore firms mostly from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, which will bring in at least P1.7 billion in fresh investments over the next two years.

Among them are global leaders in the so-called “currency of the future” that will engage in initial coin offerings, virtual currency exchanges, crypto mining, and blockchain production.

CEOs and industry experts were on hand to discuss how the private sector is adapting to innovations in the fintech sphere, including Justo Ortiz of Union Bank, JJ Atencio of Acudeen Technologies, Raymond Garcia of DFNN, Enrique Gonzales of LR Data, and Tony Tong of the Hong Kong Blockchain Association.

Acudeen recently executed the first- ever blockchain transaction in the Philippines through its AssetChain Ecosystem. Mr. Atencio said: “We’re moving already into the digital economy at a speed that nobody ever expected. Fintech and blockchain are becoming too big to ignore, you have to be in that space.”

In fact, Mr. Ortiz is spearheading the establishment of the Blockchain Association of the Philippines, which will be launched this week during the Blockchain Applications and Economics Forum 2018 to educate Filipinos on opportunities offered by this emerging technology.

Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Rowel Barba, who is concurrently the acting chairman of the CEZA board of directors, led a dozen government officials during the summit’s plenary sessions who presented the policies of various regulatory agencies that interface with CEZA’s stakeholders. They pledged their commitment and support for the implementation of major development programs within the 55,000- hectare CSEZFP.

Due to its proximity to Japan, Taiwan, and the Greater Bay Area of southern China, the CSEZFP is also designed to become a tourism center, transshipment port, and agro-industrial hub catering to countries in the Asia-Pacific rim.

The key projects that have been identified by CEZA to be given its highest priority are the redevelopment of Port Irene in Santa Ana town and the upgrading of the Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo town. The latter used to accommodate chartered flights from Macau and Hong Kong until it ceased operations in 2017.

Gone are the days when the Cagayan Freeport was known for second-hand imported vehicles and illegal gaming operators. Under the new CEZA leadership, it is making a strategic pivot and being transformed into a “Fintech City” or the next “Silicon Valley of Asia.”