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27 March 2009

Subic business chamber backs hotel-casino project

The Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC), an organization of investor-companies registered in this free port, has endorsed the hotel-casino project being proposed here by Korean firm Grand Utopia Inc.

In an official statement dated March 19, the business group said the $120-million development project “will ultimately increase tourism in (Subic’s) central business district, create at least 5,000 jobs, and lend itself further to the viable and continued economic success of the Freeport.”

The declaration was signed by SBFCC president Danny J. Piano, who is also president and CEO of Absolute Service Inc.; vice president Romeo Duran, of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Law Offices; treasurer Dante Pollescas, vice president and general manager of Subic Enerzone Corp.; corporate secretary Rose Baldeo, president and CEO of Global Ship Management Service Inc.; director Tom de Bruin, president and CEO of Grainpro Philippines Inc.; director Sung Il Cho, senior pastor of the Subic Bay Christian Worship Center, Inc.; and director Gerald James Hammond, general manager of Subic Drydock Corp.

The SBFCC issued its endorsement of the hotel-casino project in the wake of a congressional probe on allegations by noted Filipino architect Felino Palafox Jr. that some 300 trees in the project site would be destroyed if the plan pushed through.

But after independently gathering documents and other information on the controversy, the SBFCC said it has arrived at the conclusion that “there could be a reasonable balance between the conservation of nature and commercial and infrastructure development.”

The Subic hotel-casino issue “will understandably be perceived as a clash between nature and development,” the group said in its manifesto.

However, “if all encroachments against nature are to be disallowed, we will not be able to build anything anywhere anymore,” the SBFCC pointed out.

The group also pointed out that developments that make life convenient for people may be allowed although they could have some adverse effects to the environment. These include projects like the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, where natural hills were cut and lands were paved, and the reclamation of 20,000 hectares of land around Manila Bay that destroyed corals and mangroves, but now houses the Philippine Senate building, among others.

“These are but examples of how commercial and infrastructure development may invade nature in pursuit of development, but which are nonetheless acceptable due to the benefits they bring and the control and minimization of any adverse environmental impact,” the SBFCC also said.

In the case of the proposed Ocean 9 hotel-casino project here, the SBFCC said that Parcel No. 35, the project site which supposedly contains an “urban forest”, is found outside Subic’s protected forest, and is in fact in a commercial district according to zoning guidelines.

“It has likewise been determined that Parcel No. 35 could not have been a virgin forest since the trees were introduced during development, nor could the trees in it have been more than 50 years old,” the SBFCC statement said.

The business group also noted that the allegation that some 300 so-called “heritage trees” will be destroyed in an urban forest “has spiraled into a huge controversy that threatens to erode the good image of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.”

As the members of the SBFCC live and work in and around the Subic Bay Freeport, they are “affected by the controversy,” the chamber said.

“Accordingly, SBFCC firmly believes that it is in the best interest of all concerned that the facts behind these reports be fully disclosed and well understood,” the Subic business group also said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

Subic introduces hop-on, hop-off bus transport for tourists

Tourists in this free port will now find it easier to visit various attractions here, thanks to the so-called “hop-on, hop-off” transportation mode, a system touted to be the first of its kind in the country.

Under this transport service concept launched recently by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in cooperation with WoWCard, a business locator engaged in tourism promotion and marketing, Subic visitors can buy a one-day-pass ticket from WoWCard kiosks then enjoy one whole day of unlimited rides aboard any of the “Wow Subic” buses.

“Like eat-all-you-can, Subic’s hop-on, hop-off transportation system is ride-all-you-can,” said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza. “And it also comes at a minimal price of P200.”

Arreza said that Subic’s hop-on, hop-off (Ho-Ho) buses took after Metro Manila’s Wow Sakay Na! vans that ferry tourists to various attractions around the metropolis.

“But in Subic, instead of vans we have commissioned double-decker buses so that visitors can see the area better and thus make their visit worthwhile,” he added.

“With this sy
stem, visitors can just leave their cars at their hotels, and then hop on for a day of hassle-free sightseeing,” Arreza also said.

SBMA deputy administrator for tourism Raul Marcelo said the Ho-Ho bus system was conceptualized for tourists who usually end up having problems in going around the vast expanse of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

“How would they be able to visit all the Subic sites in just one day? What would they ride from Zoobic Safari to Ocean Adventure? How much gasoline would they need if they used their car? These are things that always bothered tourists. So, we thought of having a hop-on, hop-off transport
service for their convenience,” Marcelo said.

The hop-on, hop-off tourism transport service, in particular, would be ideal for families and other big tourist groups, since they could stay together in one vehicle while touring the area, Marcelo added.

The buses start from Subic’s Boardwalk area, then go around the Central Business District — stopping at shopping centers and some shops, then travel all the way to the Naval Magazine area where most of Subic’s tourism attractions are located. After completing the circuit, the buses head back to Boardwalk.

Marcelo
said that after familiarizing themselves with the bus schedule, tourists with one-Ho-Ho passes could visit various destinations at their convenience.

“If a tourist wakes up at 9:00 in the morning and decides to go shopping at the Royal Duty Free Store, for instance, he can take a Ho-Ho bus and return to his hotel using another one later. Then, if he decides after lunch to go to Zoobic Safari, he can also take that trip with his one-day pass, then ride back to his hotel after,” Marcelo explained.

Marcelo added that the Ho-Ho buses will provide the usual discounts to senior citizens and studen
ts. (SBMA Corporate Communications)
PHOTOS:
“Wow Subic” buses provide a hop-on, hop-off transportation service to tourists at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, the first of its kind in the country.

24 March 2009

Economic team projects 6.9% growth for Central Luzon

With the presence of Subic Bay and Clark free ports in Central Luzon, a 6.9 percent economic growth is “highly attainable” in the region this year despite the global economic slowdown, Philippine economic managers said.

The economic forecast was made during a recent briefing here at the Subic International Hotel, where the country’s top economic officials held back-to-back presentations on the government’s strategies to override the effects of the financial crisis.

The team of speakers was headed by Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Margarito Teves, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ralph Recto, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Director Iluminada Sicat.

Also present were Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary Laura Pascua, Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary Roy Kyamko, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Region 3 Director Blesila Lantayona, and NEDA Region 3 Director Remigio Mercado.

In the briefing, Teves said the government’s fiscal reform has generated revenues that are now being invested into two economic sectors — public infrastructure and social services — to pump-prime the national economy.

But he specifically cited the Subic-Clark growth corridor as “steps ahead” compared to neighboring areas because of major infrastructure projects already in place in the area.

These include the modern seaport in Subic that has given rise to a 600,000-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) container terminal, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) that now links the two free ports.

With this advantage, Central Luzon, which made the third largest contribution to the country’s gross regional domestic product (GRDP) at 8.3 percent in 2007, “can focus on other economic arenas like attracting investments, and streamlining the process of doing business in the region,” Teves said.

NEDA’s Mercado said meanwhile that the agriculture and services sectors will stay resilient and provide avenues for regional economic growth amid the global economic slowdown.

He added that the industrial sector’s output in Region 3, however, is expected to go down further since manufacturing, which employs 20 percent of the people in the industrial sector, had been the hardest hit by the financial crisis.

“Manufacturing is still expected to grow, but comparatively lower than that of 2007 figures,” Mercado added.

On the other hand, Mercado said that growth in the services sector — now Central Luzon’s biggest sector at 40 percent — may be pushed higher if the region could take advantage of the expanding industries in new growth areas.

Mercado said these include the fields of information and communications technology (ICT), business process outsourcing (BPO), health and wellness, logistics and port development, food processing, agribusiness, aquaculture, tourism, and ancillary services and products to locators in industrial estates and ecozones.

The economic team also concluded that with the increase in government spending, strong domestic consumption, declining inflation rates, and cooperation from the private sector, the country may attain economic growth of from 3...7 to 4.4 percent this year. (SBMA Corporate Communications)
PHOTO: Finance Secretary Margarito Teves fields a question during an economic briefing conducted here last week by the country’s economic managers. With Teves are NEDA Secretary Ralph Recto, NEDA Region 3 director Remigio Mercado, and Budget Undersecretary Laura Pascua.

23 March 2009

SBMA clarifies issue on Subic drug bust

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) clarified on Friday that the agency initially treated the case of drug trafficker Anthony Ang as “simple smuggling” because there was no indication at that point that the boxes he brought into the free port contained drugs.

“This is precisely the reason why we called on the assistance of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) and not the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA),” said SBMA senior deputy administrator for operations Ferdinand Hernandez.

“We had no idea that the boxes Ang carried when he was apprehended by SBMA law enforcers contained shabu,” Hernandez stressed, adding that the boxes even yielded a negative reaction from drug-sniffing dogs.

Hernandez issued this clarification after some quarters wondered out loud why the SBMA did not bring PDEA early on in the case, as President Arroyo ordered a manhunt for Ang, who was reported to have slipped out of the country.

“Ang insisted that the boxes contained sensitive computer parts. And because Ang was a registered investor in Subic, he was given due courtesy even when we detained his cargo while he promised to produce the necessary documents,” the SBMA official said.

Hernandez said the PDEA was only informed of the case when SBMA and PASG operatives opened the boxes later in the presence of representatives from Hualong International Inc., Ang’s registered company in the Freeport, and found out that the eight boxes actually contained drugs.

At that time, however, Ang, who had promised to return with documents, had gone missing, along with his family. His employees at Hualong denied any knowledge of the contents of Ang’s cargo or of the whereabouts of Ang and his family.

It might be recalled that Ang was first apprehended by SBMA policemen in the evening of May 25, 2008, as he tried to bring out of Subic’s SRF area eight boxes from the Vietnamese-registered boat FB Shun Fa Xing.

Under questioning, Ang refused to open the boxes and pleaded with SBMA officials to release what he described were “sensitive computer parts.”

Hernandez said Subic authorities, however, gave two conditions for the release of the boxes: that Ang produce the necessary documents, and that a 100 percent inspection of the cargo is made.

Hernandez also said that it was through the persistent efforts of the SBMA police, SWAT team and Harbor Patrol group that three more caches of drugs apparently secreted by Ang in various areas of the Freeport were discovered immediately after the initial May 25, 2008 incident.

He said that after shabu was found inside Ang’s boxes on May 27, SBMA law enforcers recovered on May 28 two bags of shabu floating on the water at the SRF area, and 60 more bags inside a van hidden near the Hualong warehouse.

On June 7, 2008, operatives of the SBMA Harbor Patrol Branch discovered three boxes containing shabu that were anchored underwater near the area where FB Shun Fa Xing docked earlier.

In all, Subic operatives recovered a total of 744 kilos of high-grade methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, Hernandez said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

21 March 2009

17 years after RA 7227: SBMA cites Subic Freeport’s economic contributions

Officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said that Subic Bay has significantly achieved its business objectives of attracting investments and generating employment opportunities after 17 years of existence as a special economic zone and free port.

SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga and SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza jointly cited Subic’s economic contributions on Thursday, after the agency marked the 17th year of the passage of Republic Act 7227, which created, among others, the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone (SSEFZ).

RA 7227, also known as the Bases Conversion Development Act of 1992, mandated the development of the SSEFZ into a self-sustaining, industrial, commercial, financial and investment center to generate employment opportunities in and around the zone and to attract and promote productive foreign investments.

It was signed into law by President Corazon C. Aquino on March 13, 1992, after its consolidated version was finally passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate the month before.

“The Subic Bay Freeport, we are proud to say, has consistently delivered on its objectives in the past 17 years,” Salonga said. “And it will continue to deliver despite the hurdles brought about by the ongoing global economic slowdown,” he added.

“One bright note here is the continuing increase of our labor force, which grew by almost 18 percent last year. The biggest chunk of this – or more than 41 percent – are employed in the services sector; followed by shipbuilding/marine-related services, which employ some 35 percent of our work force,” Salonga said.

He also pointed out that the 87,502 jobs in the Subic Freeport as of December 2008 “is more than thrice the number of workers employed by the US Navy at the heydays of the then Subic Naval Base.”

Arreza said meanwhile that in the 17 years since the Subic Freeport has existed, the SBMA has generated $5.75 billion in committed investments, $11.21 billion in exports, and P2.21 billion in seaport revenues.

He added that with the operation of various investor-firms since 1992, the Subic Freeport had also contributed to the national treasury a total of P9.93 billion in collections by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and P55.35 billion in cash and non-cash collections by the Bureau of Customs (BoC).

Arreza also revealed that despite the global economic downturn, the agency is actually eyeing further growth through a new development roadmap that has identified five major investment areas in the free port – namely, logistics, manufacturing, shipbuilding, tourism, and business process outsourcing and knowledge-based industries.

“After fulfilling our mandate of attracting investors and creating jobs, we have to re-invent the purpose of the SBMA. Now we’re aiming to take the Subic Freeport, as well as the neighboring communities, to a higher level — creating a multiplier effect in Central Luzon and the rest of the national economy,” said Arreza.

Arreza added that the importance for the SBMA to deliver on its key metrics cannot be overemphasized “because Subic has always been an enabler from the time it was born 17 years ago to today.”

“If Subic succeeds, it creates a positive image for the country as well. If Subic goes down, it can drag the rest of the country, too. This is why our biggest moral purpose is to unite around a sense of achievement for the sake of our country,” Arreza concluded. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO:
The SBMA head office at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone: continuing to deliver 17 years after its creation in 1992.

1,300 Subic Aetas benefit from U.S. medical-healing mission

About 1,300 members of the indigenous Aeta tribe in this free port benefited from a medical-healing mission conducted recently by the Bethesda Springs of Hope Healing Ministry, a Catholic Christian ministry based in Columbus, Ohio.

The ministry sent some 40 doctors, nurses, dentists and x-ray technicians to the Pastolan Aeta community here to minister to the sick, in partnership with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and volunteers from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Manila.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the medical-healing mission led by Maribi Mapa-Garcia, a founding member of the Bethesda ministry, also dispensed medicines and other health supplies worth about P800,000.

The missionaries and volunteer medical-dental personnel were welcomed by Pastolan Aeta chieftain Conrado Frenilla, who expressed his appreciation of the medical assistance on behalf of his constituents.

SBMA deputy administrator Raul Marcelo, who coordinated the mission, meanwhile, said that in accordance with the ministry’s program of providing an “experience of hope” to communities, the whole-day mission started with a holy mass and a values-formation seminar.

These were followed by some lecture on the proper use of medicines, as well as hygiene and dental care, then the actual medical and dental examination of patients.

“It is an activity that really makes you feel happy,” Marcelo said. “Nakakagaang talaga ng kalooban.”

Arreza also said that because of the successful medical mission with the Pastolan Aetas, the SBMA and Bethesda Springs of Hope Healing Ministry are considering the possibility of conducting regular joint medical-healing missions among underprivileged communities around the Subic Bay Freeport.

“We’re always willing to lend a hand, especially when you have partners who are evidently happy in treating and comforting the less-privileged,” Arreza said, referring to the volunteers from Bethesda and St. Luke’s.

Arreza noted that while most of the volunteers are professionals from Metro Manila, who are apparently enjoying a comfortable life, they never complained about the remote location or about the heat of the sun during the mission.

“They came here for our brothers in the mountains, to extend a helping hand,” Arreza observed. “I’m sure they really wanted to share with others all the blessings they get in this life.” (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Volunteers from the Bethesda Springs of Hope Healing Ministry and St. Luke’s Medical Center minister to medical and dental patients at the Pastolan Aeta village in the Subic Bay Freeport.


19 March 2009

Subic ticks advantages for sports-tourism market

Flaunting Subic Free Port’s advantages in terms of accessibility, facilities and a healthy environment, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) is now vying to corner the multimillion peso sports-tourism market by promoting various sports events here as a destination product.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the Subic Bay Free Port is now luring domestic and international sports tourists, a resilient market that appears to defy the effects of the current economic slowdown.

“This market consists of relatively affluent tourists who are very passionate about health and fitness, and would gladly spend money for love of their sport,” Arreza explained.

“On the other hand, we have here in Subic the perfect sports-tourism mix in place,” Arreza said. “We have a location that is accessible by land, air and sea; we have modern sports facilities and infrastructure, as well as support services like hotels; we have the experience in handling major sports competitions; and, of course, an unrivaled environment that is both secure and safe.”

Arreza bared Subic’s sports-tourism thrust on Monday as he announced various sports
competitions scheduled here this summer.

These include the Philippine Hobie Challenge “Traveler Series-Subic Bay,” held over the weekend; fishing tournaments respectively organized by the Subic Bay Anglers Club and the Manila Anglers Club on March 15 and 21; the Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival from April 2 to 5; and the Subic Bay International Triathlon on May 16 and 17.

On top of these, Subic will also host this summer several socio-cultural events and entertainment shows, as well as a photography contest sponsored by the Greater Subic Bay Tourism Board.

“So if you want fun, adventure, as well as sports and fitness, then Subic is the place to be this summer. Best of all, Subic is a family-oriented holiday venue,” Arreza said.

In particular, the four-day Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival (TLBF) is expected to draw bikers from all over the country, as well as some foreign participants from Dubai and Australia, said Arreza.

“This is the second time that this festival will be held in Subic, and we’re again looking forward to a full-capacity crowd,” Arreza said, pointing out that the Subic Bay Free Port is now more accessible to local tourists because of the Subic-Clark- Tarlac Expressway. “This is another reason for sports enthusiasts and the fun crowd to be coming over to Subic this summer,” he added.

The bike festival, which the organizers dub as Asia’s only multi-discipline cycling event, will feature mountain-bike races such as cross-country, downhill, dirt jumping and 4X; a three-day, four-stage road-bike competition; dirt-jumping and supercross events for BMX; as well as bicycle trials.

To add variety, organizers also incorporated into the festival a standard Olympic-distance triathlon and a bike trade show.

Organizer Gregorio Larrazabal said big-name guests expected to take part in the bike festival include former UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) world champion and mountain-bike hall of famer Hans “No Way” Rey, who will conduct trials, demos and clinics; and current UCI 4X world champion Brian Lopes, considered by USA Today as “undisputedly the best all-around world-class cycling athlete.”

Prizes, meanwhile, include trips to Hong Kong or Boracay, cash ranging from P1,000 to P20,000, bikes and bike parts, gift certificates, as well as trophies for 1st to 3rd placers and medals for 4th to 10th placers.

Larrazabal, who described Subic as “ideal for bike competitions,” also disclosed that the TLBF committee has launched an online registration system through the festival web site www.tlbf.org. to accommodate participants from various Philippine regions, as well as abroad.

Online- registered participants will receive a confirmation by e-mail, with details of the registration and a control number that serves as reference for all transactions connected to the event like race kit and race number, Larrazabal said.

Larrazabal added the festival has also become a vehicle to promote cyclo-tourism in the Philippines, and for promoting the country as a destination for bikers and cycling enthusiasts from all over the world.

As a festival venue, meanwhile, Subic offers more advantages to visiting bikers and their families, said Larrazabal. “Here, they could ride their bikes in the morning, do shopping and recreation in the afternoon, and enjoy fine dining and entertainment in the evening.” (Henry EmpeƱo, Business Mirror)

17 March 2009

Subic expects big turnout for April 2-5 bike festival

Sports lovers and bike enthusiasts are again expected to flock to this free port as the four-day Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival (TLBF), Asia’s only multi-discipline cycling event, kicks off here on April 2.

The event, which includes various bicycle races, a standard Olympic-distance triathlon, and a bike trade show, is supported and endorsed by the Department of Tourism (DoT), and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

It will also feature former UCI world champion and mountain bike hall of famer Hans “No Way” Rey, who will conduct trials, demos and clinics, as well as current UCI 4X world champion Brian Lopes, who is considered by USA Today as “undisputedly the best all around world class cycling athlete”.

Organizers said prizes for winning participants include trips to Hong Kong or Boracay, cash prizes ranging from P1,000 to P20,000, bikes or bike parts, gift certificates, as well as trophies for 1st to 3rd placers and medals for 4th to 10th placers.

“This is the second time that this festival will be held in Subic, and we’re again looking forward to a full-capacity crowd,” said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, pointing out that the Subic Freeport is now more accessible to local tourists because of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).

“This is another reason for sports enthusiasts and the fun crowd to be coming over to Subic this summer, as we’re also coming up with several big events in the Subic Bay area,” Arreza said.

“So if you want fun, adventure, as well as sports and fitness, then Subic is the place to be this summer. Best of all, Subic is a family-oriented holiday venue,” he added.

Festival director Gregorio Larrazabal said the upcoming event will feature mountain bike races such as cross-country, downhill, dirt jumping and 4X; a three-day, four-stage road bike competition; dirt-jumping and supercross events for BMX; as well as bicycle trials.

Participants from all over the country, along with some bikers from Dubai and Australia, have signed up for the various races, he said.

“Aside from the bike races, we’re coming up with a triathlon and a trade show in a 1,500-square meter display area for the best and latest in the bike industry,” Larrazabal added.

Registration for the 2009 TLBF has opened to cyclists and cycling enthusiasts as early as August 2008, with forms primarily made available through participating bike shops.

However, to cater to participants from other countries as well as regional participants in the country, the festival committee has launched an on-line registration system through the festival website www.tlbf.org.

On-line registered participants will receive a confirmation e-mail, which will contain details of the registration and a control number that the participant will use as reference for any other transactions connected to the event like race kit and race number, Larrazabal said.

The festival official, who described Subic as “ideal for bike competitions”, disclosed that the TLBF was organized in honor his father, Terry, who advocated a healthy lifestyle — the basic goal of the festival.

First organized in Ormoc City, Leyte in 2002, the TLBF had since become a celebration of bicycling as a sport, as well as an avenue for health and environmental advocacy. It had also become a vehicle to promote cyclo-tourism in the Philippines, and for promoting the country as a destination for bikers and cycling enthusiasts from all over the world.

Larrazabal also said that as a festival venue, Subic offers more advantages to visiting bikers and their families, as they could ride their bikes in the morning, do shopping and recreation in the afternoon, and enjoy fine dining and entertainment in the evening. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Bikers negotiate a mountain bike course in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

11 March 2009

UK birdwatchers tag Subic area as “gold mine”

The vast forest reserve spread over the former naval magazine of the US Navy in Subic Bay is a “gold mine” containing an impressive number of bird species, according to top birdwatchers from the United Kingdom.

Tim Appleton, leader of the 13-man delegation of bird tour operators and journalists from the United Kingdom, said during a visit here that Subic’s more than a hundred species of birds could be a major attraction to people who are willing to spend their money for the newest craze among tourists — birdwatching.

“Subic has a huge potential as destination for birdwatchers all over the world, particularly from America and from Europe,” Appleton gushed as his group clicked away during the Subic tour.

“Yes, this is a gold mine you have here, the birds,” he added.

Appleton’s group recently visited the Subic Bay Freeport as part of a two-week familiarization trip to some of the country’s leading bird sites like the Candaba Swamp in Pampanga, Palawan, Cebu and Subic Bay. The group encouraged foreigners, as well as Filipinos to take a more appreciative look at the local environment and to understand its value to men as well as wildlife.

“In Subic, you have a brilliant environment here and it is secured. The trees, the habitats and the birds are here. And that is more encouraging,” Appleton said.

Subic, which was recently named by the Department of Tourism (DoT) as one of the 13 premier bird-watching sites in the country, account for 15 percent of all bird species throughout the Philippines, and 29 percent of all Luzon bird species.

As a birdwatching site, Subic was recently mentioned in a book entitled “Bird Watching in the Philippines”, which was written by Carlos Libosada, Jr. The book was launched at the World Travel Mart in London last year by Tourism secretary Ace Durano.

“There are more than 185 species of birds here, some of them you can find nowhere else in the world but only here in the Philippines,” said Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Administrator Armand Arreza.

“When you’re in Subic Bay, the best birdwatching site would be Hill 394, or the Nabasan and Triboa areas inside the former naval magazine complex,” Arreza told Appleton and his group.

The complex is also home to some of the major nature-themed tourist parks and facilities in Subic, including Tree Top Adventure, Pamulaklakin Nature Park, Apaliin Mangrove Trail, and Jungle Joe, Zoobic Safari, and JEST Camp.

Among the most abundant species in Subic are the Philippine Bulbul, the Philippine Coucal, the Balicassiao, the Guaiabero, and the Blackish cuckoo-shrike, which are mostly found in closed canopy and open canopy forests of Subic Bay.

During their visit, the UK group likewise praised the SBMA’s efforts at conservation and environmental protection.

“If you cut the forest today, it is gone forever,” said Appleton, who is manager of the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Great Britain. “And so would the wildlife and the (tour) operators, who are willing to bring their own clients to the Philippines to experience what we are doing here in the past two weeks.”

Those who joined Appleton in the Subic tour were: Stephen Mark Andrews of Wildwings; Stephen Rooke, director of Sunbird; Paul Alexander Dukes, operations manager of Naturetrek Ltd.; Raymund Peter Tipper, senior tour adviser and leader, Avian Adventures; David Tipling, wildlife photographer; Matthew Merritt, features editor, Bird Watching Magazine (Bauer Media); Chris Harbard, freelance writer and website manager; William Henry Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest; Alex Robinson, wildlife and adventure photographer; Dr. John Duncan MacDonald, senior partner/owner, WildSounds LLP; and Chicoy Enerio, Philippine tourism attache-DOT London. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Bird tour operators and wildlife photographers from the United Kingdom have a field day at the naval magazine area of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, where some bird species found only in the Philippines make their home in closed canopy forests.

Senator Gordon lauds SBMA for promoting workers’ welfare

Senator Richard Gordon, who is also chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), lauded the management of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) for prioritizing the welfare of its employees while striving to make Subic a progressive economic hub.

Gordon, who served as chairman and administrator of the SBMA in 1992 until 1998, visited the SBMA on Monday to personally hand over two PNRC claim checks amounting to P107,700 each to the children of former SBMA fireman Eduardo Moratin who died in an accident last year.

Gordon was welcomed by SBMA officials and employees led by Chairman Feliciano Salonga and Administrator Armand Arreza to the Monday morning flag raising ceremony where the checks were turned over.

“Ngayong araw na ito ay natutuwa ako na iyong mga nag-member sa inyo ng Red Cross at nag-volunteer, tulad ni Ed Moratin, na ngayon ang kanyang mga anak ay makakakuha na ng P107,700 bawa’t-isa,” Gordon announced.

The checks representing claims for P200,000 accidental death benefits and P14,000 hospitalization benefits were received by Moratin’s children Lester Edward, 21, and Krishia Lee, 20. MOratin’s wife, Lilia, passed away seven months before his fatal accident.

“I am glad that all SBMA workers are now covered by Red Cross insurance. At least, you are helping the Red Cross, and the Red Cross helps the families of the member-victims,” Gordon added.

According to SBMA records, Moratin was hired by the SBMA Fire Department as fire marshal in April 1992 until he died in a car accident in Olongapo City in July 2008. Moratin was only 44 years old then.

Meanwhile, SBMA Administrator Arreza, who is currently a governor of PNRC, noted that the SBMA has allotted P1,794,500 last year for its 3,589 officials and employees to avail of “Premier Gold” memberships with the PNRC.

Arreza added that the agency is now processing the renewal of PNRC memberships for its employees, since the SBMA considers it a worthwhile investment to promote employees welfare.

“It is only one way of showing how we appreciate our personnel who have dedicated themselves to make SBMA among the leading revenue generating agencies of the government,” Arreza said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Sen. Richard Gordon releases Red Cross benefits to Lester Edward and Krishia Lee, children of an SBMA fireman who died in an accident last year. With Gordon are SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza (right) and other PNRC officials.

09 March 2009

Solon bares motive behind Palafox’s ‘environmentalism’

Buhay Partylist representative Carissa Coscolluela said the “web of lies” spun by architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. around the controversial Ocean 9 hotel-casino project here seems to serve a hidden motive — the transfer of the project to another site where a firm co-owned by Palafox stands to gain US$36 million.

This may be the reason why Palafox has been “screaming bloody murder of trees” in the proposed project site “even when the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) stated from day one that not a single tree has been cut, or will be cut,” said Coscolluela during the congressional hearing conducted last Wednesday by the House committee on bases conversion.

To back up her claim, Coscolluela produced the general information sheet (GIS) of the Subic Coastal Development Corporation (SCDC), the firm that developed the 18-hectare Moonbay Marina property here, which listed Palafox among its incorporators, board members, and stockholders.

It was learned that Palafox owns 5 percent of the SCDC. Palafox claimed in Wednesday’s hearing that he was not aware of his being a stockholder in the SCDC.

According to SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, an offer has been made recently to the hotel-casino proponent Grand Utopia Inc. for the lease of the entire 18-hectare site for $40 million.

Arreza said the SBMA stands to get US$4 million only under this scheme, as opposed to US$36 million for SCDC, under the terms of contract entered between the two parties during the term of former SBMA chairman Felicito Payumo..

The terms of the contract, said Coscolluela, would be “greatly disadvantageous to the government”, and would be the subject of a separate inquiry also by the bases conversion committee.

Palafox was among those who worked on the conceptual master plan of the Moonbay Marina project, which, according to SBMA Ecology chief Amethya dela Llana-Koval, was issued a cease and desist order (CDO) when construction began even before an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) was issued for the project.

Koval likewise said that at least 90 trees were cut for the Moonbay Marina project, and that the nesting site of at least three endangered species of “pawikan” in the area had been destroyed in the process.

With this, Coscolluela concluded that Palafox has only been “masquerading as a noble environmentalist” when it suited his purpose.

“Many people have joined his cause, believing that this is a fight to save the environment. Let us not be fooled,” Coscolluela said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

05 March 2009

Palafox apologizes over corruption claims in Subic

Manila - “It can be hearsay, or maybe factual. I’m very sorry if it created a lot of trouble.”

With this, renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. on Wednesday apologized to five public officials, including Senator Richard Gordon, who he implicated in alleged anomalies at the Subic Bay Freeport during a congressional hearing last week.

Palafox issued the apology during the resumption of the hearing conducted by the House committee on bases conversion, after failing to substantiate claims of protectionism and corruption against Gordon, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) chair Ephraim Genuino, former congressman Prospero Pichay, Buhay partylist representative Carissa Coscolluela, and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) director Ricardo Coscolluela.

The House committee, chaired by Isabela Representative Edwin Uy, now investigates various claims by Palafox in the controversial Ocean 9 hotel-casino project. These include allegations on tree-cutting at the project site, as well as a purported extortion attempt related to bidding for the revision of the SBMA Master Development Plan.

Palafox said earlier that the five names he mentioned were being brought up constantly by “hundreds of people” as protectors of SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, and involved in some anomalies in the free port.

However, members of the committee began to intensely grill Palafox upon realizing that the architect cannot substantiate his charges with solid evidence.

“We cannot just allow anybody, even us legislators, to accuse anyone without reasonable basis,” said Rep. Rosemary Arenas.

Rep. Philip Pichay, meanwhile, told Palafox that he has caused pain not only to his brother Prospero, but also their mother and other people close to the family.

“My brother is in the water (utility) business,” said Pichay, then wondered aloud how his brother got associated with issues in Subic.

Pichay then demanded a public apology from Palafox, specifying that it must be printed and aired in the media to clear the names Palafox has “smeared”.

Palafox said in defense that he has “never accused anyone” and that he was merely relaying information he has received.

“I must apologize for the pain it might have caused,” said Palafox. “I am just a taxpayer — I don’t have the resources to investigate, so maybe these should be referred to the NBI (National Bureau of investigation), the Ombudsman, or to other agencies,” he added.

This, however, further irked Pichay, who asserted that Palafox should have held on to evidence before making accusations. He added that the committee hearing is not the proper venue to disclose hearsays.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, meanwhile, expressed relief over the course of the investigation.

“The committee, I believe, is now realizing that all Palafox has got from the beginning was blank ammunition. He’s just making noise,” said Arreza. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO:
Architect Felino Palafox Jr. tries to wiggle his way out of intense grilling by members of the House committee on bases conversion after failing to substantiate his allegations on corruption at the Subic Bay Freeport.

04 March 2009

SBMA still keen on $7.5-B investment target

Despite the global economic slowdown that has affected some business locators in this free port, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) is still eyeing a $7.5 billion investment target in 2010 — a figure that is thrice the cumulative investment commitments recorded here in 2005.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said in the recent State of the Freeport Address (SOFA), an annual event organized by the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC), that the 2010 target he has set upon taking over as administrator in 2006 still stands.

“If you ask whether we can still achieve the ambitious goals that we have set for ourselves, with apologies to Barack Obama, I now say: Yes, we can!” Arreza asserted.

Arreza noted that cumulative investments in Subic last year have already exceeded the original 2010 target of $5 billion when actual investment commitments reached $5.8 billion. This represented a 116 percent increase over the original target, but is still some $1.7 billion short of the “enhanced” 2010 target of $7.5 billion.

In terms of direct employment, meanwhile, Arreza said that actual figures reached 87,502 in 2008, or 87.5 percent of the original target of 100,000. The enhanced target, meanwhile, has been set at 150,000.

Arreza added that Subic’s annual exports, which stood at $719 million in 2005, have grown to $977 million in 2008, or 65 percent of the original 2010 target of $1.5 billion. Still, the SBMA is aiming for a $2 billion annual record based on its enhanced target for 2010, Arreza said.

To achieve the enhanced targets, Arreza stressed that the SBMA and business locators in Subic “should change the name of the game” in four areas: logistics, manufacturing, tourism, and services, specifically in business process outsourcing and knowledge-based industries.

In logistics, Arreza said it is imperative to build in Subic a viable regional transshipment center, with daily ship calls to major regional logistics hubs.

This, he said, could be achieved by attracting heavy port users in Central Luzon, implementing automated import-export document procedures, attracting an air cargo carrier to replace FedEx, and earmarking P311 million this year for additional investments in warehouses and logistics facilities.

In the manufacturing sector, Arreza proposed to establish stronger clusters to capture greater value, encourage greater investment in R&D, capitalize on Hanjin’s presence to build a strong maritime industry, and develop additional industrial estates along the Subic-Clark corridor.

Tourism, meanwhile, could be further enhanced by tapping flights to Clark to build a foreign market, developing new cost-competitive tour packages, and introducing a hop-on, hop-off transportation system in the Subic Freeport..

Arreza also told locators here that Subic still “has no significant presence in the Philippine BPO market.” This situation, he added, could be corrected by providing additional incentives to pioneering companies, working with local schools to enhance curriculum, and developing an IT park within the Freeport zone.

Along this line, he also proposed to utilize in Subic the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax), a high-speed wireless data technology, as a platform for new businesses and services within the zone.

At the same time, Arreza said the SBMA would pursue outward expansion to Olongapo City, as well as neighboring areas in Zambales and Bataan in order to address the problem of limited land areas for development in the Subic Bay Freeport.

Arreza said that Olongapo would be ideal for the development of more commercial establishments, housing, and resorts, while Zambales could accommodate expansions in shipbuilding, utilities, as well as housing and resort industries.

Neighboring areas in Bataan, meanwhile, could be used for industrial estates, resort development, reforestation activities, and preservation of indigenous people’s domains, Arreza added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO: SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza is optimistic that the Subic Bay Freeport Zone could generate more investments, despite the global economic slowdown.

03 March 2009

Grand Utopia official lashes back at Palafox

A top official of the controversial $120-million hotel and casino that has become the subject of environmental concern has finally lashed back at its former architect who turned into the project’s No. 1 critic after being sidelined from the project.

In a statement, Executive Manager Eric Ghi-Buhm Park said that Grand Utopia Inc. is deeply disappointed that their former architect Felino Palafox Jr. began criticizing their Subic Project in the media using documents of their company.

“By coming out in the media and speaking before various public gatherings [while] criticizing our Subic project, the architect has committed a breach not only of the provisions of the subcontract agreement but also of professional ethics,” Park added.

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza also inspected the project site last January and confirmed that the trees remained intact at the project site.

“If architect Palafox, as our professional local architect, was sincerely concerned about the trees from the very beginning, wasn’t it his responsibility to advise his client Grand Utopia of an alternative solution instead of publicly criticizing his client’s project in an unethical way with all exaggerations?” Park rued.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Administrator Armand Arreza in a separate statement is urging the critics of the project to be objective and stop sensationalizing the issue that has only delayed the project.

“We still think that this project would be beneficial to the Subic Bay Freeport, especially with the projected manpower hiring of about 5,000. It’s a project proposal that we have to evaluate objectively,” Arreza said.

Arreza made the appeal after the Special Committee on Bases Conversion of the House of Representatives on Tuesday conducted its initial hearing on two resolutions seeking to investigate claims made by noted architect Palafox.

The project remained on hold since November last year after Palafox’s claims triggered protests from environmental groups concerned about trees at the project site.

The SBMA official also bared project proponent Grand Utopia Inc. has already asked the SBMA to give them an alternate location since the allegations have caused the project much delay. (Anthony Bayarong, Manila Times)

Subic hotel-casino proponent now looking for new site in Subic

Despite the raging controversy stirred by allegations of tree cutting to make way for the Ocean 9 hotel-casino project in Subic Freeport, the Korean proponent has not given up on its $120 million project and is now scouting for another location.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza said in a media briefing that Grand Utopia Inc. asked Subic authorities for help in finding another site for its hotel-casino complex.

"We have, in fact, found a suitable new location, but it's not yet final," Arreza said.

He identified a block of waterfront property where the decade-old steel skeleton of an aborted hotel project still stands as a possible site.

"Understandably, Grand Utopia is already impatient because of the delay resulting from the controversy," Arreza said, referring to allegations by noted Filipino architect Felino Palafox Jr. that the project would destroy about 300 trees at the proposed site.

The purported tree cutting has caused uproar among environment, religious and civic groups, although not a single tree has yet been cut, as some independent groups had verified, including Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, who inspected the site last month.

Arreza said what happened was really unfair to Grand Utopia, "because this locator has, since the beginning, indicated its willingness to abide by Philippine laws."

He added if the Ocean 9 proposal would indeed destroy trees, the plan could always be altered or rejected by authorities. "That's why we have laws to guide us in making decisions," he said.

Arreza also called on critics of the project to stop "sensationalizing" the issue for the truth to emerge and the matter resolved rationally.He said the issue is "already moot" since no trees have actually been cut at the project site, and the SBMA and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have categorically stated they will not allow any tree to be cut.

"This is already a closed case as far as we're concerned, but the problem is somebody continues to muddle the issue," Arreza said, referring to Palafox.

"Palafox fancies himself as a crusader for the environment and a fighter of corruption, but so far he has been making unsubstantiated allegations," Arreza said. "He owes a lot of people explanation for what he' s done," he added.

Arreza said Palafox began "exposing" internal documents about the Ocean 9 hotel-casino project even before Grand Utopia could formally present its plan to the SBMA.

The initial environmental examination (IEE) report for the project was received by the SBMA only in the first week of January this year, but Palafox has been talking about its details since late November, Arreza said.

"That was grossly unethical because he [Palafox], technically, did not own the plans since he was just hired as a project designer," Arreza said.

Palafox claimed last year that he backed out of the project after learning that Grand Utopia intended to cut trees.

Arreza said documents from Grand Utopia indicated that Palafox was precisely hired because he promised the Korean firm to facilitate the granting of an environmental compliance certificate for the project.

SBMA documents also show that an environmental assessment group hired by Palafox for the project's IEE had said in its initial report "tree-balling is highly recommended."

A manifesto from the Council for Built and Natural Environments (CBNE), composed of nine professional organizations, meanwhile, urged "a second look" at the Ocean 9 controversy to "come up with a more objective and intelligent appreciation of the situation."

The CBNE said a fact-finding mission it conducted on February 5 validated that the proposed project site is in Subic's commercial district, there is no natural forest in the proposed project site and that no tree has been cut or felled.

Based on its findings, the group concluded that vegetation in the project site can neither be considered virgin forest, or a natural old-growth forest, and that there are no century-old trees in the area.

The CBNE is composed of the United Architects of the Philippines, Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, Philippine Association of Landscape Architects, Geological Society of the Philippines, Integrated Chemists of the Philippines, National Master Plumbers Association of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Agriculturists, Philippine Institute of Interior Designers, and the Society of Filipino Foresters. (Henry Empeno, Business Mirror)

Aboitiz Power defers Subic power project

THE construction of the 300-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant of Aboitiz Power Corp. (AP) at the Redondo Peninsula in Subic has been deferred indefinitely as a result of reduced demand in the Luzon grid.

AP chief financial officer Iker Aboitiz said, "We are basically taking a closer look at the project and looking at what's going to happen in the Luzon grid this year because of the slowdown. The need for more capacity is not as clean-cut as in the Visayas grid."

However, Aboitiz said they are not abandoning the plan to put up the $450-million power plant, a joint project of AP and Taiwan Cogeneration Corp. that was originally slated for completion in 2011.

"It is just a matter of when to build it. We will need it and the capacity, for sure. We are just looking at our options in terms of timing." Aboitiz said.

Aside from its Redondo Peninsula project, AP is pushing for other brand-new generation projects: the 460-MW coal-fired plant in Toledo in partnership with Metrobank and Formosa Heavy Industries of Taiwan, and the hydroelectric plant in Sibulan in Davao Oriental by AP subsidiary Hedcor.

At the same time, AP is preparing to create a special purpose vehicle to bid for the Sual and Pagbilao power plants expected to be up for bidding by the middle of the year. Sual-Pagbilao produces about 1,700 MW.

"We can bid for two [facilities] , but the government does not want one company to control that much power so that we are only bidding for one," said Aboitiz. He did not identify which facilities AP is considering. (Wilfredo Rodolfo III, Business Mirror)

Subik Clicks Photo contest opens

Subic Bay and the surrounding area are a nature and photography lovers haven and now the Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau (http://www.greatersubicbay.com) wants your help in showing the world.

GSBTB is proud to announce "Subik Clicks," a photography contest that highlights the four areas that make up the Greater Subic Bay area.

The Greature Subic Bay Area is composed of the Province of Bataan, Olongapo city,
Subic Bay Freeport, and the province of Zambales (also collectively referred to as "Subik")

The contest will accept photographs taken in any part of the four areas between January 1, 2009 and April 24,2009 the deadline for submissions.

Subic Bay itself is becoming well know as a tourist destination and the area has seen a growth in hotel rooms.

Visitors from Manila and Cebu are increasing as they see it as a great alternative to other locations.

The global economic crisis has caused many of them to look for lower cost alternative for vacations and they have discovered that not only does Subic Bay offer a great value, it also offers great vacations.

The beaches along the Zambales coast are some of the best in Asia. Being less than a two hour drive from Manila, it is also great for a short getaway.

Tourists from neighboring countries are also exploring the area. The DMIA at Clark Freeport Zone is a great gateway. The facilities are much better than the Manila airport giving visitors a much better arrival experience.

A number of airlines are now flying into DMIA instead of Manila. The Subic Bay Freeport, the hub of Subik, is directly connected to the DMIA airport by the Subic-Clark- Tarlac expressway.
Forty-five minutes after stepping out of the terminal at Clark you can be stepping onto a beach.

Subic bay offers much more than great beaches and water sports. the Aetas, the nomadic tribe that has lived in the mountains for centuries allow tourists a glimpse into the jungles and their traditional lifestyles with hikes into the jungles and survival skill demonstrations.

There are a number of theme parks also, such as Ocean Adventure, Zoobic Safari, Jungle Joe's and Tree Top Adventure.

The photography contest is open to everyone. The theme is simple show off what the Subic Bay area's tourism is all about.

Photos submitted should be 8x10 in size unmounted. Entries will be entered into categories which are based on the location the photographs were taken.

Each category will have a top prize of 20,000 pesos. There will be over 200,000 in cash prizes. The top 100 entries in each category will be displayed at the Subic Bay Exhibition and convention Center from 2 May to 14 May 2009. Winners will be announced on 8 May, 20009.

See the web site http://www.greatersubicbay.com for more details and entry form. (c/o Olongapo-SubicBay News)