Ex-PEZA head claims investors confused by OIC arrangement

THE FORMER director-general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) said economic zone locators are finding it confusing to operate amid conflicting statements on the status of the agency’s leadership.

Charito B. Plaza, in a news conference on Wednesday, was responding to a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) order affirming the new leadership at the agency following a period when certain agency officials were declared officers in charge (OIC) by the new administration.

Ms. Plaza said she is awaiting an official response of the Office of the President (OP) after seeking clarification on her status.

Ms. Plaza was appointed by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte as the PEZA’s Director General in September 2016. The change of government created a situation where certain agency heads were instructed to remain in their posts temporarily.

“I will only abide by the OP decision. It is only the President who (can) appoint the PEZA Director-General. Locators are at a loss and are worried. We are praying that the OP can address the issue,” Ms. Plaza said.

Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual had issued Department Order No. 22-68 on Aug. 2 which affirmed as PEZA OIC Director-General Tereso O. Panga until Dec. 31, or until a replacement is appointed.

According to Ms. Plaza, Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 3 issued by the OP on July 27 superseded MC No. 1 issued on June 30.

MC No. 1 declared vacant all positions held by presidential appointees; in the absence of designated replacements, the OIC position will be taken up by the agency official who is next in seniority.

Ms. Plaza said that MC No. 1 did not specify whether a government instrumentality such as PEZA was covered. PEZA was conferred government instrumentality status by a Supreme Court ruling (G.R. No. 184203), prompting Ms. Plaza to seek clarification from the OP.

MC No. 3 subsequently clarified that government instrumentalities and government-owned or controlled corporations with corporate powers are exempt from MC No. 1.

“MC No. 1 clearly stated that we are exempt (from the co-terminous rule for appointees of President Duterte) because PEZA is a government instrumentality, with corporate powers, exempted from paying real estate tax, as stated by the Supreme Court decision in PEZA’s case against Lapu-lapu City in Cebu in 2018,” Ms. Plaza said.

Before Ms. Plaza’s news conference, PEZA’s Corporate Communications Division said in an e-mail that the agency is obeying the DTI’s order.

“Please be informed that we in PEZA are bound and are obeying DTI Department Order No. 2022-88 affirming Mr. Panga as the PEZA OIC,” it said.

Asked to comment, Mr. Panga said in a Viber message that he issued a statement to PEZA employees that work within the agency should not be disrupted.

“Let’s focus on our work and not allow ourselves to get distracted. We have the law on our side and the full support of the DTI, PEZA officers and employees, ecozone locators and partner industries,” Mr. Panga said in the statement.

“We also pray for Ms. Plaza and for all PEZAns that we may resolve as soon as possible this crisis in a peaceful, decent and honorable manner. I am just an OIC and doing my job, following the OP directives under MC 1 and MC 3. I would be glad to turn over the reins to whoever will be appointed PEZA Director-General by the President,” he added.

Mr. Panga has spent 24 years with PEZA. He was a former division chief of Policy Planning, zone manager of Lima Technology Center and other ecozones in Batangas, zone administrator of Baguio City Economic Zone and Cavite Economic Zone, and had been deputy director general for Policy and Planning since 2010. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave