CAGAYAN Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) Administrator and CEO Raul L. Lambino is upbeat on Cagayan’s looming role as Asia’s next travel and trade jewel.
A hidden gem no more, Cagayan is all set to compete with leisure and investment havens in the country and all over the world. Lambino notes that the province’s unique blend of sea, sand and sun, entertainment as well as extreme adventure is the ideal paradise for a gaming and tourism complex.
Cagayan, as described by Lambino, is like a magical goddess with magnetic powers. “Cagayan already has natural beauty that is hard to resist. What we need is to show that the Freeport can be an investment jewel in Southeast and East Asia,” he said.
In line with this, Lambino has proposed before Congress a fast-paced infrastructure building to enhance the investment environment in the Greater Cagayan Advanced Economic Zone and Freeport (GCAEZF).
The hard-working, goal-oriented CEZA chief underscored that Port Irene in Santa Ana town, site of the CEZA headquarters in northeastern Cagayan, enjoys the advantage of proximity to the biggest developed markets in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is located along major international shipping lanes but its potential has not been unlocked because of its inadequate infrastructure and poor port conditions.
“We are now revisiting the Freeport’s master plan to update it with the changing time,” said Lambino. “Our medium-term development is to be centered on building the conducive environment for investors to locate their businesses at the Freeport.”
Lambino bared that the planned expansion of the Freeport’s territorial jurisdiction targets to transform it into a major transhipment and logistics hub that would give it the name, “Gateway to the Pacific”.
He bared a Taiwanese firm and two major investors in CEZA have expressed interest in setting up a virtual ‘tourist city’, which would include a casino gaming complex, hotel and villas, water theme park, golf courses, a horse-riding layout and a premium duty free outlet shopping mall.
Palaui Island, with a 20-kilometer powdery shoreline, is the main attraction in the proposed development, including the enchanting Fuga Island, a 10,000-hectare property that could rival popular tourist destinations in Europe when fully developed.
The supremely virgin isle is a 7,000-hectare protected sanctuary that is also known as “Survivor Island” where a popular global television series was filmed. CNN Travel has ranked Palaui Island the 10th best beach in the world.
Palaui has breathtaking sceneries and undulating terrain. Among its allures are a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna, wide grass meadows, thick mangroves, tropical rainforest and warm blue waters.
Lambino also said the North Cagayan International Airport in the neighboring town of Lallo will be opened to chartered flights starting next month.
Domestic and international flights will start in March to make the beach and island destination accessible to tourists and junkets for players from Macau and Hongkong.
Lambino said a Korean-based company has offered at no cost to the government a P2-billion proposal for the dredging, development and rehabilitation of Port Irene so it could cater to large post Panamax vessels and transhipment cargoes.
The proponent has included a reclamation project to fortify the one-km. concrete breakwater and upgrade the existing piers and wharves for heavy traffic.
“Business activities at the Freeport will not be only seaport-driven but also airport-driven,” said Lambino.
“These are vital drivers of economic growth and development that we are committed to fully put on stream in cooperation with the private sector to bring locators and tourists to the Freeport,” he said.
Included in the proposed infrastructure spending are the construction of CEZA’s own corporate center, a modern medical center and a boutique hotel that will house a duty free shop in the town of Santa Ana.
Lambino visited late last year New York City and Washington, DC where he met with US officials and Fil-American businessmen to invite American firms in tourism and hotel operation, technology, aqua- agri ventures, garments manufacturing and gaming industry to locate at the Freeport.
The United States Trade and Development Administration (USTDA) has expressed support for the conduct of feasibility studies on power and transportation development to determine the needs of CEZA and the expected heavy turnout of new investors in the tourism and aqua-agri business ventures