Forging a Future: The Transformation of the Freeport Area of Bataan

In the heart of Bataan, where history and industry intersect, a remarkable transformation is underway. 

The Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB), empowered by the updated Charter introduced through the enactment of Republic Act No. 11453, has embarked on a journey to diversify its portfolio and embrace the future. 

This strategic evolution, led by the newly appointed AFAB Administrator Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman, marks a significant turning point in the Freeport’s history.

Established in 1969, the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) initially aimed to attract foreign investors engaged in manufacturing, solidifying its reputation as a hub for the production of lenses, luxury brand accessories, composites, electronic components, and even sports equipment like tennis balls. 

Fast forward to the present, under the leadership of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the Freeport is embracing a new mission—to welcome technology-based enterprises, particularly those that champion knowledge-based workers.

“Under the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., our Freeport became part of the global manufacturing floor — we currently host nearly 100 companies, who provide employment to some 38,000 factory workers. Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., we are now expanding to become a blockchain and fintech hub as well,” Pangandaman stated.

To realize this vision, he has immersed himself in the dynamic world of emerging industries. 

His journey began in Singapore, where he delved into the venture capital scene. Recently, he embarked on a whirlwind tour, visiting Taipei to explore the gaming industry; and in Dubai to gain insights into freeport operations and seek new investors in energy generation.

“In Taipei, we found out that apart from China, there are also other major markets in Asia, Europe, and Latin America that can be served in the field of emerging technologies and related services,” Pangandaman said. 

The administrator noted that some of these other markets are already being tapped by accredited local service providers in Bataan. 

Currently, FAB locators primarily engage in outsourced backend support services. However, the ultimate goal is to engage in development as well, unlocking significant growth potential and revenue streams.

The Dubai leg of Pangandaman’s journey proved equally enlightening. His visit to Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) inspired thoughts about enhancing security and optimizing container traffic management within FAB through technological solutions. It also emphasized the need to streamline locator services under one roof, mirroring JAFZA’s successful approach.

Furthermore, the visit encouraged a strategic focus on select industry verticals, echoing JAFZA’s concept of tapping into “ecosystems.”

In Dubai, Pangandaman also explored potential collaborations with Sahara Motors, discussing the possibility of offering luxury vehicles and value-added services within FAB.

In Abu Dhabi, he met with Masdar, a prominent player in renewable energy projects, and found that they were considering the Philippines for their initiatives. The existing capability of FAB’s energy generators to supply excess energy to the national grid piqued Masdar’s interest, opening avenues for collaboration.

As Pangandaman reflected on his week-long journey back to Manila, he recognized the profound changes that had occurred since FAB’s inception in 1969. 

The Freeport, once focused on embracing the world of business through tax incentives and competitive labor costs, now faces the challenge of understanding and harnessing emerging technologies and their intricate value chains. 

The mission and vision of FAB as a premier economic zone and freeport in the country must evolve and adapt to the changing times and the evolving world order.

In the heart of Bataan, a transformation is underway, and the Freeport Area of Bataan stands ready to face the future with determination, innovation, and a commitment to sustainable growth. (MJSC/RPQ-PIA 3)

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