MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has retained the P891-million funding for the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) in the 2014 national budget despite a last-minute appeal from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago for him to veto the appropriation.
Santiago has described the CEZA outlay as the pork barrel of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, with whom she has been feuding. Enrile is from Cagayan.
She claimed that the free port in Sta. Ana town has received from Congress a total of P5.1 billion from 2008 to 2013, “without any significant contribution to the economy or the national treasury.”
“What has CEZA done with the P5.1 billion? What has been CEZA’s output? What has CEZA contributed to the economy? What has it contributed to the national coffers?” she asked.
The Sta. Ana port is where second-hand vehicle importers bring in used cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
Toward the latter part of last year, then Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon stopped the importation of used cars through CEZA, but a Cagayan court restrained the enforcement of his directive.
The bringing in of used vehicles is no longer allowed at the Subic Freeport, where it started several years ago, but auctioneers there still sell second-hand cars, SUVs and equipment.
The vehicles are apparently registered in Land Transportation Office branches in Region 2, as they sport license plates with control letters beginning with “B,” which is assigned to Cagayan Valley.
The Subic auctioneers either buy their vehicles from Sta. Ana Freeport importers or bring these in themselves through companies operating there.
Another special economic zone in the north is the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, which is a brainchild of the Angaras.
It has a budget of P48.5 million for this year. The House of Representatives had recommended P76 million for it, but the bicameral conference committee on the budget reduced it by P27.5 million.
The Cagayan and Aurora free ports had their biggest budgets during the Arroyo administration.
CEZA had more than P1 billion in annual funding then, while the Aurora special economic zone had P350 million.
The lesser-known Bataan Freeport received a P100-million funding for this year, while the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone Authority was allotted P82 million.