From military base to Luzon’s top business destination
THE Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga has continued to transform itself into a modern industrial estate from being an American military base many years ago. Situated on the northwest side of Angeles City and on the west side of Mabalacat City, the freeport is in a strategic location that is being complemented with fitting infrastructure put in place by the government. With a growing labor force, the Clark Freeport Zone also serves as the center of leisure, fitness, entertainment and gaming in Central Luzon and is shaping up as a hub for the country’s aviation, education and tourism sectors.
After it was shut down in 1991 as a result of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano in the Zambales mountains, the Clark Freeport Zone was cleaned up, resurfacing as Clark International Airport and Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) in 1995. To make it one of the most modern airports in Asia, its existing infrastructure had been improved with the addition of a second parallel runway.
Eventually, Clark Air Base was renamed Clark Freeport Philippines on March 20, 2007 under the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This turned Clark into a freeport, which allowed investors to enjoy tax-free and other duty-free privileges, similar to their counterparts at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, the country’s first successful case of a military base that was converted into a tax and duty-free zone through volunteerism.
Meanwhile, the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) remains as the administrator of the Clark Freeport Zone under the law. Since the CDC was created in 1993 to administer the area, a great number of foreign and domestic investors have moved into the freeport and driven investments.
Today, hundreds of employees, mostly from Pampanga, Tarlac and Bulacan provinces, are working at the Clark Freeport Zone. The freeport is also predicted to be the next haven for the business process outsourcing industry.
Helping the Clark Freeport Zone to promote its economic activities through employment and investments, the CDC aims to convert the freeport into “an airport-driven urban center perfect for the requirements of high-end information technology [IT] enabled industries, aviation and logistics-related enterprises, tourism and other sectors.” According to the the CDC, many investors have expressed optimism on the investment prospects and business progress in the Clark Freeport Zone, including development of the master-planned community New Clark City (NCC) or Clark Green City.
The NCC, administered from Angeles City, Pampanga, is located in the municipality of Capas, Tarlac. Once developed, it will be divided into districts: government, central business, academic, agri-forestry research and development, wellness, recreation and eco-tourism. It will promote renewable energy, efficient waste management and power and water conservation system. Apart from being a mixed-use business and industrial community, the city will also house the National Government Administrative Center (NGAC), a project that will accommodate back-up offices of major government agencies to ensure continuous business operations in case of disasters or national calamities. The NGAC broke ground on January 23, 2018.
Emmanuel Niño Ang, commercial attaché for South Korea, said a group of engineering and construction companies from South Korea would like to pay a visit to the Philippines to explore possible investments in the Clark Freeport Zone. “There is a lot of interests from South Korea to participate in the various projects at the New Clark City,” he noted.
In January 2018, a South Korean business delegation came to the Philippines to review opportunities emerging from the government’s infrastructure initiative. According to South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man, the delegation explored the NCC and visited the Clark Freeport Zone.
The ambassador said, “New Southern Policy,” Korea’s investment in Southeast Asia, had been focused on Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. “President Moon Jae-in made it clear that the southern policy emphasizes infrastructure projects, especially in transport, energy, water management and ICT [information and communication technology]. I think there are many areas of cooperation between South Korea and the Philippines.”
In November last year, Moon expressed his intention to refocus on Southeast Asia, given South Korea’s status as a potential partner for the regional bloc under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership scheme. He had also visited Indonesia in an effort to grow South Korea’s trading links there.
The CDC said Eric Elnar, commercial attaché for the United Arab Emirates, had hinted to them the interest of a company in the UAE to finance a theme park inside the Clark Freeport Zone.
“Right now, we are trying to partner with MEC of Japan on the development of our business and innovation hub,” he added.
The CDC said other topics concerning land areas and partnership in utilities, tourism-related projects, education services and innovations in the NCC had been discussed in a briefing with the investors.
Clark as new ‘aerotropolis’
The Philippines recently pitched Clark to global investors as the next “aerotropolis” in Asia. Aerotropolis is the concept of developing a city with the airport at its center. Joshua Bingcang, senior vice president for the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), joined airport operators, city planners, social infrastructure developers and city council representatives during the 3rd Annual Aerotropolis Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was attended by distinguished guests.
In a speech titled “Building a Smart and Sustainable Airport City: Creating New Growth Center,” Bingcang told investors that Clark now emerges as Asia’s next aerotropolis. Describing the area as a strategic investment opportunity, he said, “Clark is on its way to becoming Asia’s next aerotropolis with the development not only of the airport, but the Clark Freeport as well, and the construction of the first smart, green and resilient New Clark City.”
Bingcang also told potential investors about construction of an access road from Clark International Airport to the NCC, as well as the operations and maintenance of the Clark airport. The airport will be a major gateway with an expected increase in its capacity.
Another component that would improve accessibility to Clark is a high-capacity mass transit system transport service in the NCC. It will also have a research and development-driven industrial park focusing on innovative industries integrated along a corridor that stretches to the proposed Subic-Clark Railway System, according to the BCDA.
Clark also plans to establish a trading center for fresh agricultural and processed products that will strengthen food supply chains and the post-harvest systems of Northern Luzon, Central Luzon and Metro Manila.