‘Name PEZA head ASAP’

Economist-lawmaker Joey Salceda has urged President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to appoint a director general for the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) as soon as possible.

He argued the ongoing conflict in the agency’s leadership jeopardizes the country’s ability to maximize favorable export conditions.

Salceda referred to the head-on collision of Officer-in-Charge Deputy Director General Tereso Panga and Director-General Charito Plaza.

Salceda cautioned that the PEZA leadership problem may drive away foreign investors as they may determine the investment climate in the country to be excessively politicized and therefore risky.

However, he suggested that the best thing they can do economically is to concentrate on exports and dollar-earning sectors and services in light of the weak peso.

“That means, we are surely getting the bad parts of a weak currency, such as high import prices, but we are handicapped from taking advantage of the better parts, such as higher exports-to-peso value and more competitive export pricing,” Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said.

Budget question

Salceda underscored that without a director general, they might not know which budget to bring up in Congress since the PEZA director general presents the agency’s budget to the board. He expressed concern that the institution will suffer if the dispute extends until budget hearings in Congress.

Trade Undersecretary Herminio Bagro III said in a statement on Thursday that the PEZA director-general position was “legally deemed vacant as of 30 June noontime” following the issuance of Memorandum Circular 1 by Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez.

“Only PBBM can decisively end the confusion through an appointment. The PEZA law is very clear that the Director General is appointed by the President,” he said.

Meanwhile, Salceda expressed his hope that Marcos would appoint someone knowledgeable in the CREATE Law’s “letter and spirit” so that PEZA could take advantage of the tax system rather than continue to push for its modification at such a crucial stage of the law’s implementation.

“I appeal to PBBM to appoint a steady pair of hands who can help the exports sector sail through the prospect of potential lockdowns here and elsewhere, volatility in global trade conditions, the trend towards protectionism among our trading partners, and higher probabilities of global conflict,” the solon affirmed.

“Never since the late 1970s and the 1990s have I seen such a global environment for exports that is so complex as the one we’re in. The exports sector needs a captain who can steer the ship drama-free,” he said.

Salceda, the incumbent representative of Albay’s second congressional district, however, named his personal bets for the role.

Among the names mentioned are former National Economic and Development Authority Secretaries Karl Chua and Dante Canlas, Trade Undersecretaries Ceferino Rodoldo and Rafaelita Aldaba, Fiscal Incentives Review Board Secretary Juvy Danofrata, exports economist and UPSE Professor Florian Alburo.

According to the lawmaker, Marcos’ economics-related appointments have been grand slams. However, he is confident in his wisdom and judgment on the PEZA appointment.

PEZA vs smuggling

Salceda further emphasized that PEZA’s head is critical in the fight against smuggling.

“This is lesser known, but the PEZA head is also crucial in our fight against smuggling, including agricultural products. Freeports and ecozones, if too lax in enforcement and too pro-business, can be used as pass-throughs for smuggled goods,” he said.

Meanwhile, he assured that the Ways and Means Committee would continue working with ecozones to combat smuggling, including using ecozones and customs-bonded warehouses to smuggle fuel, tobacco and agricultural products.

“My point is, drama-free is key. I am optimistic about a PEZA that is a partner of the Committee on Ways and Means in getting our exports up and in fighting smuggling in ecozones. I hope PBBM can name a head soon.”

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