A World War gave this province its place in humanity’s darkest history and made this war-torn fishing village one of two starting points to a brutal, long march that saw thousands of Filipino soldiers and hundreds of their American counterparts killed.
In April 1942, on the third year of World War II, the infamous “Death March” began—from the towns of Bagac and Mariveles in Bataan province to Capas town in the province of Tarlac.
The tragedy of war would change the tempo of life in Mariveles town, relegating it to an economy of subsistence, where farmers heavily depended on the yield of the land and catch from the sea for their existence.
Situated on a cove at the southern tip of the Bataan peninsula, Mariveles is about 173 kilometers from Manila and could be reached by ferry traveling the Mariveles-Manila route.
Until the late 60s, Mariveles was largely underdeveloped. It had a rickety road network, with businesses centered mostly on sari-sari stores catering to the everyday needs of community residents. Farming and fishing remained the community’s main source of income.
But in June 1969, a representative from Bataan named Pablo Roman authored a bill designating Mariveles, Bataan as the first free trade zone in the Philippines. The bill was passed into law (Republic Act 5390) on June 21, 1969.
Thereafter, in November, some two months after the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, the late Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Presidential Decree 66, creating an Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) in Mariveles, Bataan.
The decree allowed foreign enterprises to locate inside the Bataan Export Processing Zone (BEPZ) and granted these enterprises credits and benefits such as tax exemptions, accelerated depreciation of fixed assets, and the like.
It gave EPZA the power to order residents living inside the zone to relocate so that construction of the zone’s infrastructure can begin.
The creation of the BEPZ was geared to create jobs, train skilled workers, transfer technology, and increase foreign exchange earnings, thereby attaining the country’s development objectives.
But the reality of low wages led to labor problems, as well as housing problems arising from rapid increase in population due to migration.
All these factors, compounded by the widespread economic crisis that led to the EDSA February Revolution and the ouster of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, resulted in a decline in productivity and output in the BEPZ.
SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
In 1995, plans to reinvigorate the BEPZ began. Congress passed a law creating the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).
Then President Fidel V. Ramos signed Republic Act (RA) 7916 and under PEZA, classified the BEPZ into a “Special Economic Zone (SEZ)” or Ecozone
The Bataan Ecozone (BEZ) was designed to speed up industrial, economic, and social development that would raise the living conditions of people in the countryside.
Studies said that the rationale behind the government’s decision to establish and Export Processing Zone (EPZ) or Economic Zone was to boost the country’s development through export-oriented industries.
But Local Government authorities said that, “despite the economic activity and growth in the area brought about by the development of Subic and Clark in the 1990s, the development in the BEZ stagnated and then declined rapidly.”
To manage the declining productivity of the BEZ and to return it to its mandate of creating employment and livelihood opportunities in the region, then Bataan Second District Rep. Albert S. Garcia authored House Bill 5344 in the 14th Congress.
The bill moved for the passage of an act converting the BEZ into the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) and creating for this purpose the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB). It’s counterpart measure in the Senate was Senate Bill 2118 initiated by Sen. Loren Legarda.
Congress thereafter passed the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) Act of 2009 (RA 9728), with Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signing it into law on Oct. 23, 2009.
The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) handed the administration of Bataan Economic Zone (BEZ) to the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) in 2009.
Incumbent Mariveles Mayor Ace Jello Concepcion said that the conversion of BEZ into a FAB transformed the municipality of Mariveles, laying the groundwork for more investors that have provided jobs for its growing population of 127,000 people.
Still, Concepcion said he and other local officials of Mariveles are supporting HB 6524, a bill that proposes FAB Act amendments—this time authored by Rep. Jose Enrique “Joet” S. Garcia III, younger brother of then Rep. Albert Garcia, who now serves as the Governor of Bataan.
The younger Garcia said that, “much economic development has already become apparent and has made RA 9728 less competitive compared with neighboring ASEAN countries.”
He added that “credible economic gains have already been achieved and accomplished since the passage and approval of RA 9728, however, there is more room for improvement and there are more investors that can be persuaded to invest in the Freeport Area.”
Concepcion said the bill strengthens the powers and functions of the AFAB, making it more pro-active and responsive to the demands of the times.
For one, the amendments widen the coverage of the Bataan Freeport to include land and water territories in the municipality of Mariveles. It likewise grants exemption to the AFAB from payment of all national and local taxes.
On October 2017, the House Committees on Economic Affairs, Trade and Industry, Appropriations, and Ways and Means of the 17th Congress recommended the approval of House Bill 6524.