Lawyer Lambino takes over CEZA

(Manila Standard) July 29, 2017

TUGUEGARAO CITY—The newly appointed administrator and CEO of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority has identified seaports, airports and railways as the development priority projects to make the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport a modern economic center in Northern Luzon.

Lawyer Raul Lambino, who took over the Ceza reins this week, reiterated that Port Irene in Barangay Casambalangan in Sta. Ana, Cagayan will be repaired, including the dredging of its heavily silted seabed, and the construction of additional wharves to expand its capacity are on top of his wish list.

The modernization of the North Cagayan International Airport in Lal-lo town follows as the “second economic agenda,” Lambino stressed.

“These two are extremely important to spur development of the [Cagayan] ecozone,” he said.

“We envision the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport as a vibrant growth center that is efficient and clean and free of corruption,” added Lambino, the fifth administrator of the agency established through Republic Act 7922.

The multibillion development will include a railway alignment from Tuguegarao to Lal-lo and to Santa Ana for both commuter and cargo services, linking up with the rest of Luzon.

He said he will tap domestic investors while wooing foreign capitalists from Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Russia for light industry manufacturing and tourism in the freeport zone.

“I wish to add more local and foreign investors to participate in the development process with due consideration to the existing partners that we have,” Lambino said during the turnover ceremony on July 24 in Pasig City.

Lambino succeeded Jose Mari Ponce, who steered the government-owned and controlled corporation for the last 12 years.

The new CEZA chief is a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte and has served as the spokesperson and lawyer of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now the incumbent Pampanga Representative.

Ponce, in his farewell speech, thanked the men and women of the organization for their support and sacrifices that contributed to the overall success of CEZA.

He took over as Administrator of CEZA in 2005 when the agency was in a moribund state, with negative income, heavy government subsidy and dilapidated infrastructures.

Under Ponce’s watch, the company on the verge of closure has been transformed into a performing, well-regarded government entity in Region II, and the freeport as a highly attractive investment area.

CEZA has remitted over P1.427 billion to the National Treasury since 2005, including P816.185 million in corporate income tax collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and P611.671 million in dividends that went to the National Treasury.

Lambino got a warm welcome from CEZA staff during the formal turnover ceremony. He expressed confidence and excitement over the new challenges at the agency while acknowledging the accomplishments achieved by CEZA under Ponce’s leadership.

“Secretary Ponce has done a good job with CEZA and I hope to continue the positive developments he has started and do more,” Lambino said.

As of June 30, CEZA has 217 registered locators, three port users, and three accredited service providers, according to Ponce.

Amid this challenge, Lambino said he is optimistic that he will succeed in continuing what the former administrator has started.

“I am positive that we can live up with the primary mandate of CEZA and make it the heart of economic activities in Northern Luzon, particularly Regions I, II and the Cordilleras,” he said.

CEZA’s strategic plan also calls for specific development measures to bolster the competitive advantage of Cagayan Freeport and encourage more investments.

Lambino said he intends to expand the current CEZA 2017- 2022 Medium Term Development Plan by infusing bigger infrastructure projects and investments in different areas, in line with President Duterte’s 10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda that highlights the acceleration of infrastructure and the development of industries that will yield robust growth across the archipelago, create jobs and uplift the lives of Filipinos.

The new CEZA chief intends to augment new investments that can be brought into the Freeport through an extensive and aggressive investment and marketing campaign.