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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)

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