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29 July 2009

Morong residents benefit from SBMA medical mission

More than 150 residents from remote areas in Morong, Bataan, benefited from a medical mission initiated by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) on the occasion of the 80th birthday celebration of Chairman Feliciano Salonga on Thursday.

The medical mission, which was conducted on Friday at the multipurpose hall of the Bataan Technology Park, Inc. (BTPi) in Sabang, Morong, provided medical check-up, as well as medical supplies and supplemental vitamins, to a total of 53 indigent families.

The SBMA also distributed food supplies, and bags and slippers for children, during the mission that was held in cooperation with a leading pharmaceutical company in the country.

According to Armina Belleza-Llamas, head of the SBMA Public Relations Department, which spearheaded the project, the beneficiaries came from the remote areas of SitioTimak and Sitio 12 in Morong’s barangay Mabayo, and Sitio Nossil and Sitio Repakpak in barangay Binaritan.

“A lot of residents from these remote areas lacked medical attention because of their remote location. We thought of this project to somehow help fill this gap,” Llamas explained.

The SBMA mission was also joined by Dr. Solomon Jacalne, head of the SBMA Public Health and Safety Department, and volunteer doctors Eve Lozano-Natividad and Conchita Carvagal.

They were assisted by members of the SBMA medical staff, SBMA forest rangers, and nursing students from the Subic Freeport-based Mondriaan Aura College.

The medical mission was part of a community service program undertaken by the agency on occasion of Salonga’s birthday on Thursday, July 23.

Aside from the medical mission on Friday, the SBMA initiated a tree-planting activity and conducted a seminar on waste management and recycling for families from neighboring communities on Thursday.

The conduct of these community-based activities during Salonga’s birthday, Llamas said, has become an SBMA custom since Salonga assumed the SBMA chairmanship in 2005. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTOS: Residents from remote areas in Morong, Bataan receive medical check-up during a medical mission initiated by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority on Friday at the Bataan Technology Park.

24 July 2009

SBMA marks Chairman Salonga’s day with community service

Employees of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) again commemorated the birthday of Chairman Feliciano Salonga on July 23, with community service by planting trees, conducting a seminar on waste management, and undertaking a medical mission for indigent patients in communities near the freeport zone.

Salonga, who turned 80 on Thursday, said that employees from various SBMA departments planted a total of 800 seedlings to mark his birthday.

“We’ve been doing this ‘green’ celebration of my birthday for the past four years,” said Salonga, who became SBMA chairman in 2005. “This is my humble gift to Mother Nature, which has provided Subic with so many natural attractions.”

Unlike most government executives, Salonga celebrates his birthday without the usual big bash and, instead, spends the day with his family doing community work.

Salonga said that SBMA’s core values of “malasakit,” excellence and passion complement his desire to share with his “kababayans” the blessings and opportunities that he receives in life.

He added that planting trees is also one way of investing in the future of Subic and the next generation of residents and workers in this freeport.

Aside from planting trees on Thursday, SBMA employees also conducted a seminar on waste management and recycling at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center (SBECC).

In this activity, some 500 residents from neighboring villages in Olongapo City, Zambales and Bataan, learned how to turn waste materials into usable and sellable items from Philippine Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Inc. experts.

“It is a very simple training that gives one the idea and technical know-how on how to turn, for example, empty tetra packs into bags,” said Armie Llamas, manager of the SBMA Public Relations Office, which coordinated the livelihood training activity.

The seminar speakers also demonstrated how to produce pesticides from used cigarette butts, vinegar from santol, burger patties and vinegar from plantain banana peelings, and tea from sweet potato leaves, among others.

The SBMA, in cooperation with a leading pharmaceutical company in the country, also conducted on Friday a medical mission at the remote village of Timak in Morong, Bataan as part of the community service activities for Salonga’s birthday celebration. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: SBMA employees plant 800 tree seedlings at Cubi Point in the Subic Bay Freeport to commemorate the birthday of SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga on Thursday.

22 July 2009

SBMA worker nominated for top CSC award

An employee of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has made it as semi-finalist in the Presidential “Lingkod Bayan” Award, the highest category in the annual search by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for outstanding government workers in the country.

Edmond de Jesus, who is a Community Development Officer III at the SBMA Ecology Center, was among the 23 public officials and employees nominated to the individual category of the “Lingkod Bayan” competition, according to the CSC awards secretariat.

Nominees in the same category this year included Commissioner Marcelino Libanan of the Bureau of Immigration, Home Guaranty Corp. president Gonzalo Benjamin Bongolan, Mayor Jerry Pelayo of Candaba, Pampanga, and Philippine Merchant Marine Academy president Fidel Diñoso.

Meanwhile, 19 other candidates have made it to the semi-finals of the “Dangal ng Bayan” competition, the next level in the honor awards program, and 12 in the CSC Pagasa award category, the CSC added.

De Jesus, who was named SBMA employee of the year in 2008, was nominated by the agency for his passionate undertaking of a mission to organize Aeta tribesmen in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone for the purpose of forest conservation.

According to SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza, De Jesus began living with the Aetas for weeks at a time since 2004 in order to introduce the concept of conserving the forest as a resource base, and to inculcate among the tribesmen their unique role as stewards of the environment.

“It was an uphill struggle for the first year or so,” De Jesus said, recalling his experiences with the tribe who then still practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, or kaingin, in the foothills of Subic’s forested mountains.

But De Jesus, an agriculture graduate with a background in education and psychology, persevered until he virtually became an adopted child of the Aetas.

According to Amethya dela Llana-Koval, manager of the SBMA Ecology Center, De Jesus “has become an Aeta at heart” in the process of accomplishing his mission for the agency. “Edmond lives with them, eats with them, and fights for them — especially on issues regarding the Aeta culture and their ancestral domain,” she said.

The patience and passion of De Jesus soon paid off, as his band of Aeta “environmental warriors” were later credited for planting and nurturing more than 100,000 new trees in the Subic Bay Freeport in the last four years.

It then became the job of De Jesus and his hundred-strong Pastolan Forest Conservation Group (PFCG) to replant areas where previous projects had failed, as well as to scout for new reforestation sites in the 140 hectares of grasslands that the SBMA has designated for tree planting.

De Jesus said the Aetas became very effective in tree-planting programs because members of the PFCG lived in areas near the reforestation sites and could thus devote more time to crucial care of the tree seedlings in the first three years.

As a result, it was determined that of the 152,713 new trees that survived under the various reforestation programs in Subic, a total of 102,100 were planted by De Jesus’ group since 2005. The PCFG group also posted a high survival rate of 94 percent for its reforestation projects, thus exceeding its annual reforestation target of 20,000 trees.

De Jesus, meanwhile, said he has found much satisfaction in working with the Aeta tribesmen.

“The Aetas have also taught me a lot,” De Jesus said, pointing out the two-way exchange of knowledge and skills that marked his relationship with the indigenous people of Subic. “They have been one of my best companions in this journey through life.”

He added that his nomination as a semi-finalist for the Presidential “Lingkod Bayan” Award was a feat “beyond my wildest dreams.”

“This too, I would like to share with the Pastolan Aetas,” De Jesus said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)
PHOTO: Edmond de Jesus leads in reforestation programs at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone with the help of Aeta tribesmen, who helped plant more than 100,000 trees since 2005.

SBMA Official Statement on Legenda Employees

OFFICIAL STATEMENT by SBMA Labor Department Head, Atty. Roy C. Pastor
Re: Legend International Resorts Ltd. (LIRL) Employees
Date: 20 July 2009

We have been advised that the management of Legend International Resorts Ltd. has temporarily suspended the company’s hotel, food and beverage, and related facilities, as well as its administration and support functions, and has thus temporarily suspended as well the payment of all wages and benefits to 151 of its 250 employees for next six (6) months.

In a memorandum to its employees, LIRL said it was constrained to undertake such measures due to the SBMA’s actions against the company.

To pass the blame for the situation of these employees to the SBMA is grossly unfair.

The real culprit here is the mismanagement of LIRL, which has caused the company to accrue huge debts to the Philippine government, including unpaid obligations to the SBMA, amounting to PhP850 million.

In fact, the SBMA has worked on a debt restructuring scheme with the LIRL management, which the company has not complied with.

Nonetheless, the SBMA shall do everything within its power and authority to protect the welfare of LIRL employees, especially those who have been affected by this move by the LIRL management.

The SBMA Labor Department, in particular, will look into possible labor violations arising from LIRL’s action, including its alleged failure to file the appropriate notice with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The SBMA will definitely not allow and will never allow these employees to become victims of LIRL’s mismanagement, resulting in its continued refusal to settle its outstanding debts to its creditors.

-End of Statement-

21 July 2009

Subic-based Legend International Resorts Inc. suspends operations, places 250 workers on forced leave

Beleaguered hotel and casino operator Legend International Resorts Ltd. (LIRL) has suspended operations of most facilities at its Legenda Resort Hotel here, placing some 250 employees on forced leave since Saturday.

David Maund, a Hong Kong-based liquidator acting as agent for the LIRL, said in a memorandum to Legenda workers that operations will be “temporarily suspended at some of the company’s hotel, food and beverage, and related facilities.”

“The company’s administration and support functions will also be temporarily rationalized commensurately,” he added in the July 17 memo.

According to Maund, the LIRL management “has taken the difficult decision to rationalize the company’s operations” in an effort to “stem losses and preserve the company’s cash reserves.”

As a result, the firm will suspend payment of all wages and benefits to all the affected employees effective on July 18 “and until further notice for a maximum period of up to six months,” Maund added.

“This is not a termination of your employment by the company,” the official assured the affected workers. “Any accrued entitlements as at July 18 will remain intact throughout the period of suspension of wages and benefits in full compliance with law,” he said.

Maund also told the suspended workers that they will be notified should any development arise regarding the status of their employment with the company.

In the same memo to employees, Maund said efforts by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to terminate LIRL’s lease agreement, business registration and permit to operate had led to “a very substantial deterioration in LIRL’s occupancy levels.”

These, along with the closure of the company’s casino operations since May 2006, had placed “further pressure on cash flows,” he added.

The SBMA, however, said in a statement that attributing LIRL’s current woes to SBMA’s efforts to collect payment for the company’s debts was “grossly unfair.”

“The real culprit here is the mismanagement of LIRL, which has caused the company to accrue huge debts to the Philippine government, including unpaid obligations to the SBMA amounting to P850 million,” said lawyer Roy Pastor, manager of the SBMA labor department.

“In fact, the SBMA has worked on a debt-restructuring scheme with the LIRL management, which the company has not complied with,” he added.

Pastor said in face of the suspension of Legenda workers, the SBMA will look into possible labor violations arising from LIRL’s action, “including its alleged failure to file the appropriate notice with the Department of Labor and Employment.”

“The SBMA will definitely not allow these employees to become victims of LIRL’s mismanagement,” Pastor added, saying his department’s retooling program for displaced workers will be made available to Legenda employees.

SBMA labor officials also presided on Monday over the initial conciliation meeting between the LIRL management and workers, when they agreed that the leave credits of the affected employees be converted to cash.

It was also resolved in the meeting that the employees’ “saved funds”—a provident fund drawn from the workers’ salaries—be placed under security bond, and that the affected workers be paid all the wages and benefits due them “when resumption of operations will no longer be possible.”

Present in the meeting were LIRL’s legal counsel Rex Tadena and human resources manager Jennire Torres, as well as eight representatives from the rank of employees (Henry Empeño , Business Mirror)

20 July 2009

Subic is new hub of US-based cargo forwarder Atlas

Atlas Shippers International Inc., one of the leading door-to-door cargo forwarders in the country today, has signed up as a business locator in this free port, setting up a new distribution hub here for balikbayan boxes sent from abroad.

Atlas used the port of Subic as an entry point for the first time on Thursday, officially marking the US-based firm’s intent to establish its hub for Northern Luzon operations here.

The first cargo, a 40-foot cargo container that held 420 balikbayan boxes, took off from the Atlas branch in Covina, California, on June 24 and arrived here on July 15.

Atlas president Joel Longares said they decided to locate in Subic to take advantage of tax incentives in this free port, as well as lower tariff rates compared with charges at the Port of Manila, complete support facilities and infrastructures, faster document processing, and strategic location made more accessible by the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).

Longares said the first container to arrive through the port of Subic will be a test run to determine the viability of this port as the sole discharging point for Luzon.

“We’ll have to determine if we could save money this way,” said Longares, explaining that boxes for delivery to Southern Luzon will be trucked from Subic to their hub in Las Piñas City.

Longares also predicted that other shipping lines and cargo handlers may follow suit.

“It’s only a matter of time before the others locate here,” he said. “Aggressive marketing is just what the Subic free port needs [to attract other shippers].”

Longares said the company’s cargo load, which come from branches in Australia, Hong Kong, Italy and the United States, is expected to peak at about 30 containers per month.

With this projection, Atlas will hire about 50 employees for its Subic hub, where they will also install cargo-sorting equipment.

With Subic as their hub of operations, Longares said he expects the company to grow significantly and even expand to service outbound cargoes.

The company’s warehouse in Las Piñas will be maintained for their Southern Luzon operations, he said.

Meanwhile, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Administrator Armand Arreza noted that the business sector is now taking notice of the advantages of using the port of Subic, which boasts of two container terminals with a combined capacity of 600,000 ten-foot equivalent units.

“This is a small beginning towards greater things to come,” said Arreza, referring to the Atlas decision to use the port of Subic.

He said the SBMA’s efforts to promote Subic Bay as a maritime gateway for Luzon and a prime logistics hub for Southeast Asia is now really paying off. (Henry Empeño, Business Mirror Online)

17 July 2009

Kenyan champ out to defend Subic Int'l Marathon crown

Kenyan runner Nelson Kirwa is expected to defend his title in the SMART-Subic International Marathon (SIM) 2009 scheduled on October 24-25 at the Subic Bay Freeport.

Kirwa finished the 42-kilometer event in two hours and 16 minutes, which was several minutes behind the world record of 2:04:55 posted by Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie at the 2007 Berlin marathon.

Organizers said that they are again expecting runners from Australia, Canada, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.

Smart Sports head Patrick Gregorio told GMANews.TV recently that the marathon, the brainchild of retired Gen. Samson Tukay, was launched first in 2004.

Several years later, the SMART-SIM is the only long distance event accredited by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) and draws 10,000 runners all over the globe.

Gregorio said that the decision to support the marathon was based on the idea that Filipinos can compete in long-distance events.

“The event involves a lot of drama, as we can see in the faces of athletes who participate in this grueling sport. And the Filipino, once trained well, certainly has the potential to excel in international events. Why can’t we win a gold medal in the Olympics, for example? It’s because there’s no serious, concrete program," explained Gregorio.

“We’ve been very meticulous in looking for a partner who would be passionate and very professional, we didn’t know it would be the former police officer," said Gregorio.

Tukay said that during the first few years of the event, he and several patriotic officers spent their own money for cash prizes and paying for the accommodation of several supporters.

“We started with just passion in our hearts. No one supported us. We spent our own money for prizes and to pay for the accommodations of those who helped us former police officers," said Tukay.

Tukay added that with the entry of Smart to the event he is optimistic that the best runners in the world will compete in the tournament.

“We wanted to bring in the best runners from all over the world to the Philippines and to go to different parts of our country to get the best contenders. Now with SMART as our sponsor, how can we go wrong?" Tukay added. (Perry Legaspi, GMANews.TV)

Solon backs SBMA’s closure of Subic casino-hotel

Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez has expressed support to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in ordering the closure of the Legenda Resort Hotel here, which has incurred obligations to the government amounting to more than P1 billion.

Rodriguez expressed dismay over the huge indebtedness of the Subic hotel chain during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee wherein SBMA administrator Armand Arreza presented accomplishments in Subic in the past four years.

Responding to queries by the committee member on the Legenda case, Arreza also briefed the congressional body on the circumstances leading to the takeover of Legenda facilities in the free port.

Rodriguez thereupon urged his colleagues to back the SBMA closure order, which is being resisted by the Legend International Resorts Ltd. (LIRL), a Malaysian-owned firm that operates the defaulting hotel.

“We should support (Arreza) in closing (Legenda) if it is really overdue,” said Rodriguez, referring to the debts incurred by LIRL, which includes lease rentals and gross revenue shares to the SBMA and casino revenue shares to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).

Rodriguez added that the SBMA’s move to recover its assets “was the right thing to do..”

“In other words, people who do not pay should be cut off from their contracts because otherwise, (the government) will continue to hemorrhage (lose revenues),” Rodriguez said.

According to Arreza, the LIRL located in this premier free port in 1993, and was among the first foreign investors to invest in this former US naval base. However, the firm has failed to meet its financial obligations in the past few years, he added.

“When I came in as SBMA administrator (in 2005), the number one creditor of SBMA was Legenda,” said Arreza.

SBMA records indicated that the agency has uncontested receivables of P339.31 million from LIRL, representing lease arrears and casino share dating back to 2004. Together with contested receivables, the SBMA’s total claims against LIRL amount to P850.17 million.

Arreza said that while a rehabilitation plan has been approved by the court in 2006, the SBMA saw that “it was going nowhere,” thus forcing the SBMA to file a motion to terminate the rehabilitation proceedings on October 9, 2008.

On February 9 this year, the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court lifted the stay order that prevented the SBMA from collecting unpaid accrued rentals from LIRL since 2004 because of the rehabilitation plan.

Thus, on February 12, Arreza said the SBMA sent the LIRL a notice of termination of the lease on Legenda and two other properties, and demanded payment of rentals worth P836.73 million within 90 days.

Arreza also told the committee that aside from pre-terminating LIRL’s leases, the SBMA has canceled the firm’s certificate of registration and tax exemption (CRTE) and permit to operate (PTO).

This made the LIRL, which continues to defy SBMA orders, an illegal occupant of the land and an illegal business operator in the Subic Bay Freeport, Arreza added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

RP’s largest tourism fair to feature Subic attractions

Subic’s iconic theme parks, along with unique tourism packages in this free port, will be highlighted in the 20th installment of the country’s largest and longest-running travel, tourism and trade fair— the Philippine Travel Mart (PTM).

Aptly themed “Beyond the Usual Philippines,” the event organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) in cooperation with the Department of Tourism (DOT) is designed to showcase what is unique to the Philippines.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza, who signed a memorandum of agreement with PHILTOA president Cesar Cruz recently, said the SBMA will also be an official partner of the 20th PTM that will be held on September 4-6 at the Megatrade Halls of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City.

Cruz said SBMA’s infusion of fresh ideas in developing eco-tourist sites in Subic provides a classic example of what the industry should do to realize the country’s full tourism potentials.

Cruz praised in particular the SBMA’s “hop-on, hop-off” transport scheme, whereby commuting tourists or “backpackers” can now tour the vast expanse of the Subic Bay Freeport onboard double-decker buses plying Subic’s scenic route at regular intervals.

“Subic’s novel hop-on, hop-off scheme can be adopted anywhere in the country,” Cruz said.

Cruz added that the Subic tourist transport system will be featured in tourism seminars during the 20th PTM, which shall also serve as an avenue for tourism stakeholders and students to discuss emerging trends in the industry.

Cruz further praised SBMA, the agency that administers the Subic Bay Freeport, for constantly adding new dimensions to its positioning as a prime nature hub.

Arreza, meanwhile, explained that tourism developments in Subic revolve exactly around what are considered the free port’s jewels— its unspoiled beaches and virgin tropical forests.

“Our top tourist draws — the Treetop Adventure, Jungle Joe’s World, Zoobic Safari, and Ocean Adventure, to name a few, offer unique adventures, which we constantly upgrade by introducing new activities like bird-watching,” said Arreza.

He added that, just recently, Subic Bay has been named by the DOT as one of the country’s official sites for bird-watching, a young but increasingly popular activity among nature lovers.

“We are also introducing the newest fads in adventure tourism, like wind surfing, kite boarding, sailing, and other water sports. Actually, one can do almost anything in Subic,” said Arreza.

For the upcoming travel mart, Arreza announced that a 24-sqm pavilion showcasing the complete set of Subic attractions will be set up by the SBMA.

The Subic Bay Freeport greatly benefits from the annual travel event, which brings in thousands of local and foreign corporate buyers, consumers and other stakeholders in a single venue for travel and tourism.

Arreza said the travel mart has carved a niche in the international market as a prime venue for Philippine tour packages and other tourism products.

“Last year, 50 foreign buyers went straight to Subic right after visiting the travel mart,” he said.

Arreza also said the SBMA has a successful partnership with the PHILTOA, which is the biggest association of tour operators and agencies that exclusively promote domestic and inbound tourism.

Cruz said the PHILTOA expects about 300 foreign buyers to visit this year’s event. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO: SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza signs an agreement with Cesar Cruz, president of Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa), making the SBMA an official partner of the 20th Philippine Tourism Mart to be held at the MegaTrade Halls of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City on September 4-6, 2009. The said tourism and trade fair will feature Subic Bay Freeport’s unique attractions.

‘Balikbayan box’ distribution center opened in Subic free port

Atlas Shippers International, a Filipino-owned freight forwarding service provider yesterday opened its distribution center here with the launching of its maiden shipment.

Atlas Shippers President and Chief Operating Officer Joel P. Longares said Subic will now be its distribution hub of ’balikbayan’ boxes.

Mr. Longares said Subic, which has modern seaport facilities and highly skilled workers, is an excellent location for freight forwarding services.

"We decided to change port destination from Manila to Subic because of several advantages that the free port has to offer," Mr. Longares told reporters here.

He added that his firm would also be banking on the free port status of Subic that ensures fast movement of cargo.

Mr. Longares said tax incentives enjoyed by free port companies will allow his firm to "save more" from its operational expenses.

He also pointed to the strategic location of the Subic free port in serving clients from Northern and Central Luzon, citing the newly built Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Administration chief Armand C. Arreza said the setting up of business of Atlas in Subic free port was an off-shoot of a recent government trade mission to US.

The agreement with Atlas Shippers was signed on June 24.

"This is part of our efforts to develop Subic into a major logistic and distribution hub," Mr. Arreza said.

Trade and Industry regional director Blesila Lantayona told the BusinessWorld the government is encouraging local exporters from the region to use Subic to ship their products.

She noted that all cargo containers of Atlas Shippers would be empty after the shipment of balikbayan boxes in Subic, and said it would be a great opportunity to use Philippine-made export products as "back load" for cheaper freight charges.

"We are conceptualizing a business plan for Filipino exporters to have a tie-up with Atlas Shippers, for them to use those empty cargo containers for outbound shipment of local products abroad," Ms. Lantayona added.

Mr. Longares also said the company is preparing to operate a warehouse for its sorting facilities.

He said he was expecting more Filipino freight forwarding service companies to also use the Subic free port as its distribution hub.

"The international freight forwarding industry is so big that’s why I am encouraging them to come and also do business in Subic," Mr. Longares said.

The inaugural shipment of cargo container consisting of more than 400 balikbayan boxes was held at the Subic Port Container Terminal I, which is being operated by the Subic Bay International Terminal Corp., a subsidiary of the Enrique K. Razon, Jr.-led International Container Terminal Services, Inc.

Atlas Shippers started in January 1993 in Covina, California providing door-to-door cargo services to Filipinos in United States.

Five years after, the company took advantage of an opportunity to expand all over the US midwest, the East Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii.

On 2001, Atlas Shippers opened its doors to the international market by putting up branches in Hong Kong, Italy and Singapore to serve Filipino communities in Asia and Europe.

Other services offered by the firm are travel and tour services, air cargo service, and remittances. (Rey M. Garcia, BusinessWorld Online)

15 July 2009

Customs execs feud over Subic

Two Customs officials assigned to the Port of Subic are locked in a dispute over control of the issuance of gate passes for those bringing imported goods in or out of the free port.

The dispute erupted after Customs collector Marietta Zamoranos issued a special order removing from deputy collector Errol Albano the function of signing gate passes and issuing permits for temporary transfer of goods from the Subic free port.

Zamoranos designated a Customs personnel, Belma Limbaga, to perform the task that used to be Albano’s.

But Albano refused to heed Zamoranos’ order and sought the opinion of the Customs legal service department which ruled in his favor.

Invoking the legal department’s opinion, Albano issued a memorandum for Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales to nullify Zamoranos’ order, which the deputy collector said violated Executive Order 127.

On May 22, Morales issued an endorsement letter ordering Zamoranos to strictly comply with the mandate of Executive Order 127 expressly vesting upon Albano, as the deputy collector for operations, the supervision over the release of cargos within the Subic Customs zone.

A week later, Morales reiterated his order for Zamoranos to comply and return to Albano the authority to issue gate passes. Morales also asked Zamoranos to submit her position paper on the issue.

But Zamoranos countered with a memorandum for Morales, stating that she “may not comply with the mandate of EO 127 as directed by the commissioner.”

But she explained that she was not disregarding the order of the commissioner and that she had valid and legal reasons not to comply with Morales’ directive.

The principal issue that was resolved by the legal service is the validity of Subic special order, which “does not automatically mean that the deputy collector of operations is the proper person to exercise the various functions,” Zamoranos said.

Zamoranos cited Administrative Order 296 issued in October 1996 which created the Customs clearance area and vested it with the function to issue gate passes inside the freeport zone.

Zamoranos said she would abide by the legal services department’s opinion as endorsed by Morales “but with respect only to the invalidity of the Subic special order pending submission and eventual resolution of our position paper to defend such orders.”

Zamoranos justified her action on Albano, saying that as a district collector, she is the executive officer of the port and has command responsibility over the effective discharge of the bureau’s mission in his jurisdiction such as collection of rightful duties and taxes, prevention of smuggling, and trade facilitation and promotion of a healthy business climate.

Zamoranos, in her memorandum for Morales, said that she would assume the role of “exclusive signatory” of all gate-passes and permit for temporary transfer of imported goods at the Subic free port.

On July 2, Zamoranos released another memorandum as “supplemental” to her earlier memo for the commissioner stating that AO 296 must prevail over EO 127.

“AO 296 is a latter issuance than EO 127,” Zamoranos said.

She further explained that EO 127 is a general law reorganizing the Finance Department and defining its duties and functions including the Bureau of Customs while AO 296 is a special issuance created specifically to meet the needs and requirements of the various economic and free port zones.

Last Friday, Albano positioned himself inside the gate pass issuance office but brokers opted to secure cargo passes directly from the office of Zamoranos who posted a memorandum directing all importers and exporters to have their gate passes processed in her office. (Cecille Garcia, Manila Standard Today)

SBMA offers casino property to Korean firm

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) blockaded the hotels and a casino that a Hong Kong-based company is operating so it could offer the property to a Korean company that also wants to build a hotel and casino here, the firm’s liquidator said.

David Maund, a liquidator appointed by a Hong Kong court in 2006 to bring back Legend International Resorts Ltd. (LIRL) to profitability, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview from Hong Kong last week that the SBMA suddenly changed its approach in dealing with LIRL.

“[We learned that] the SBMA [was] paving the way for another group to take over [LIRL’s properties]. They blockaded the establishments to intimidate potential guests and users of the hotel,” Maund said.

The SBMA has offered LIRL’s properties to Neorex Philkor Inc., a Korean company that tried to build Ocean 9 hotel-casino at a tree park here last year, he said.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza confirmed that Neorex had been assigned LIRL’s properties. He said a lease contract with the Korean company had been approved by the SBMA.

“The assignment to another group is not the main issue. In fact, the liquidator has been trying to assign the property … for almost two years. Their repeated failure to honor their financial obligations with the SBMA and Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) resulted in the termination of their lease,” Arreza said.

In 2006, Pagcor revoked LIRL’s gaming license when the company could not pay more than P1 billion it owed in the form of casino shares.

Eric Park, Neorex manager, said his company had “no clear plans for now.”

“Several sites were offered [by the SBMA], but each has its own issue to be considered carefully,” Park said.

Maund said the measures that SBMA officials were taking are “illegal.” He said that the company “agreed to the rehabilitation plan and there are still ongoing proceedings in Hong Kong. It is extremely regrettable that they are doing this.”

The SBMA barricaded LIRL establishments after the courts granted the SBMA’s motion to dismiss the rehabilitation proceedings and lift the stay order.

In an earlier interview, Arreza said the court ruling was executory.

“We saw that the rehabilitation proceeding was going nowhere, so we appealed to the court to end it, which the court did,” he said.

Arreza said the rehabilitation plan failed because “one of the premises of the corporate rehabilitation plan was having the gaming license from Pagcor.”

“Also, contrary to what LIRL had committed to under the corporate rehabilitation program, the company had given up its leases on other establishments it ran like Feng Huang Restaurant, Garden Units Hotel, Grand Seasons Hotel, and Neptune Club by the time we filed the motion to dismiss,” he said.

He said the SBMA had to move to protect the government’s interest.

“As far as we are concerned, the SBMA does not recognize the proceedings in Hong Kong,” he said.

But Maund said he represented all of LIRL’s creditors, both in the Philippines and abroad. “This includes the SBMA. My responsibility is to all of them,” he said.

He said the hedge fund Avenue and the firm Morgan Stanley have the largest shares of LIRL’s debt.

“They bought a massive amount of LIRL’s bank debts. What LIRL owes the SBMA is just a small fraction of the total debt of the company. The interests of the other creditors must not be prejudiced. All the creditors must be treated equally … unless there is a reason not to do so,” Maund said.

Asked whether LIRL would continue operating its establishments here, Maund said the firm was seeking an injunction against the SBMA to get it “operating profitably and without hindrances again.”

As for LIRL’s workers who may lose their jobs if the company goes under, Maund said: “[I am] concerned about their future. It depends on whether we can successfully resist what the SBMA is trying to do.”(Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon Desk)

13 July 2009

Theme parks expand facilities in Subic Freeport

In a bid to attract more business with better and more exciting product offerings, two popular theme parks in this free port are expanding their facilities and putting up new attractions.

According to Kenneth Rementilla, business and investment department manager for leisure of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), both the Ocean Adventure Marine Park and Jungle Joe’s World Amusement Park are constructing new leisure facilities to expand operations.

The new facilities in both parks are expected to be completed within the next few months, Rementilla said. “So after the rainy season, they’ll be expecting more visitors to both parks,” he added.

At the Ocean Adventure park, a bigger sea lion stadium and exhibit area are being built to provide “an even more delightful adventure for park guests of all ages,” said Timothy Desmond, chairman and CEO of the Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), which operates the park.

“This new, larger stadium will feature an exciting water element of the show, where sea lions will frolic and perform in their saltwater habitat. The new exhibits area will include exciting underwater viewing opportunities as well,” Desmond said.

By September this year, Desmond added, two more new shows will open to the delight of visitors. These are the “Rap, Jump, and Roll”, a trampoline acrobat and mascot show that
will be presented at the new seaside stadium, and “Walk on the Wild Side”, a brand new show that will feature forest wildlife and presentations on jungle survival techniques by Aeta natives.

Desmond also said that the firm has recently opened “Adventure Beach”, which is a special events beach for group outings and team-building activities, and “Eco Theater”, which is a new venue for the Aeta presentations under the canopy of the Ilanin Forest in this free port.

“The new sea lion stadium project is evidence of our ongoing commitment to provide our guests with the very best in family entertainment,” Desmond said, adding that the SBMEI will also be doubling the size of its Camayan Beach Resort Hotel by July this year to meet customer demands.

Meanwhile, facilities expansion are now being made at Jungle Joe’s World, an amusement park built around bunkers where the U..S. Navy previously stored ammunition when it
still occupied the Subic naval base.

According to Rementilla, park operator Subic Familyland Inc. will be building an “Indiana Jones” zip line in the forest park, as well as a mini cable ride and a souvenir gift shop.

Because of these additional facilities, the company has announced a two-month suspension of its operations to make way for a major renovation, Rementilla added.

As of now, Jungle Joe’s World is attracting visitors because of its air-conditioned themed bunkers that have been converted into attractions like the Kiddie Playzone, Indy 500 Racer, Playhouse Theater, and Winter Wonderland.

Jungle Joe’s World also offers tours at its “Jurassic Trail” where life-size fiberglass figures of prehistoric animals are featured, an adventure zoo train ride, a state-of-the-art paintball course, and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rides.

The firm is also planning to put up a unique floating restaurant at the Sa’anaba beach area of the 60-hectare property. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Dolphins wow visitors at the Ocean Adventure marine park in the Subic Bay Freeport.

09 July 2009

Hanjin delays order for 8 ships to save $1.3-B deal

An order for eight super post-panamax boxships was delayed by South Korean shipbuilding conglomerate Hanjin Heavy Industries and Constructions (HHIC) here inside this premier Freeport, as the company tries to save a mega-deal worth $1.3 billion from being cancelled.

Around eight 12,800 TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) ships were ordered in 2007 by Hamburg-based NSC Schiffahrtsgesellschaft and KG financier Lloyd Fonds at the Hanjin shipbuilding facility in Redondo Peninsula here in Subic.

The order was scheduled for completion between 2010 to 2011, but Hanjin’s publicly announced on its website that the ships would be completed between 2010 to 2014.

But according to a news report, the decision by Hanjin to postpone the delivery of the vessels was done without any knowledge from NSC and Lloyd Fonds.

According to Lloyd Fonds’ CEO Torsten Teichert, “The delay has not been arranged by a joint agreement with Hanjin. We informed Hanjin that there is no financing in place of four of the ships and that these vessels have no charter contracts.”

Hanjin Heavy Industries disclosed in a statement that it was in talks that changed contract terms, including rescheduled delivery positions, for several projects.

Until now, they have not made any public statements of any agreements between the two companies.

Hanjin also confirmed that Belgian shipping company Delphis has asked the company to replace the order of some four 3,400 TEU vessels into three cape-size bulkers.

NSC and Lloyd Fonds have already sold two of the vessels on order to French line CMA CGM, planned for delivery in May and September 2010, but they are now likely to be postponed for a year. The carrier also chartered two vessels for 12 years at a daily rate of about $59,000.

The remaining four ships that do not have any charter contracts were scheduled for delivery between May and December 2011, but the shipbuilding company has announced the completion date of the four remaining vessels between 2012 and 2014.

The state of the four vessels are in currently in limbo as to whether or not they will be built, as the probability of cancellation looms the four vessels due to the contract terms.

Hanjin agreed on a very low first installment of some $5 million per vessel, with every order made by one-ship companies wherein Lloyd Fonds and NSC are shareholders.

One-ship companies would not be able to pay the subsequent installments by themselves as no bank financing is involved. No further guarantees were given by Lloyd Fonds and NSC, meaning that they would each suffer a maximum loss of $2.5 million per vessel if the order would be cancelled.

Shipbuilding companies would usually insist on an initial installment to cover 20% of the purchase price plus a bank guarantee to cover an additional 20% when doing business with one-ship companies.

Shipping experts were skeptical whether Hanjin’s move would save the order, adding that the ships will actually be constructed but not as planned. (Jonas Reyes, Manila Bulletin)

07 July 2009

SBMA’s 1st half seaport revenue exceeds 12-month figure in 2008

Authorities here reported on Monday that total revenue generated by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) from seaport operations in the first six months this year have already exceeded the total 12-month income in 2008.

“This is a result of the efforts by the SBMA to aggressively market the Subic port and to attract more shippers, importers, brokers and forwarders to Subic,“ said SBMA senior deputy administrator for operations Ferdinand Hernandez.

Hernandez said Subic seaport’s six-month revenue rose to P276.49 million this year, thus surpassing last year’s 12-month record of P276.24 by 0.09 percent or P244,153.

According to the SBMA Seaport Department, Subic’s seaport has consistently shown an upward trend since 2005, with a 5.41 percent growth recorded in 2006; 14.29 percent in 2007; and 26.63 percent in 2008.

“Now, we are confident that at the rate we’re going, our figure at the end of this year may even be double that of last year,” Hernandez said.

In the month of June alone, the SBMA Seaport Department recorded an income of P60.69 million, the highest monthly revenue ever recorded in the last five years..

The Subic seaport also earlier posted record-breaking monthly revenues this year: P37.62 million in January, P41.57 million in February, P51.01 million in March, P44.49 million in April, and P41.07 million in May.

The SBMA said seaport revenues were derived from vessel and cargo charges, leases or rentals, processing fees, SBMA shares from joint ventures, and other billings for port users.

For the first semester of this year, the bulk of seaport revenue came from vessel charges, totalling P112.11 million.

According to Hernandez the SBMA Seaport Department has pegged its revenue forecast for 2009 at P316.3 million.

“This means that our current first-half figure of more than P276 million is already 87.41 percent of our P316.3-million goal for this year,” Hernandez stressed.

“Hopefully, we will exceed our target at the end of the year,” he added.

SBMA seaport manager Perfecto Pascual said that the SBMA’s goal-setting program has so far worked wonders for the seaport department.

He said that when his department first made a revenue forecast in 2006, seaport income rose significantly when they achieved 94.75 percent of its P201.46-million forecast. This was followed by a 93.54-percent completion of the P233.21-million forecast in 2007, and the chart-busting record of 121.05-percent in 2008 when Subic posted an actual revenue of P276.24-million against a forecast of P228.2 million.

Hernandez said that among the factors that largely contributed to this year’s unprecedented revenue collection were the operation of Subic’s New Container Terminal 1 (NCT-1) by the Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC), income from vessel lay-ups, as well as wharfage fee for petroleum products, fertilizer, and grains like soya and wheat.

Hernandez also attributed Subic’s growing seaport income to the government’s complementary program on infrastructure development.

“All these record-breaking figures are because of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s vision for Subic and the huge investments in infrastructure like the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), and the Subic Port Development. All together, these have greatly enhanced Subic’s performance as a logistics hub,” Hernandez added. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

04 July 2009

Clark and Subic Economic Zones: Positioned to compete globally as logistics and transportations hubs

LOS ANGELES – Dennis L. Wright is the American president of Peregrine Development International. When he talks about the Philippines, he is more knowledgeable about the topic compared to some Filipinos. “The optimism in the Philippines is based on what you can see, and you only have to drive around Metro Manila to know this,” he told Asian Journal last week during a forum on Clark and Subic Bay Freeports at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

Wright had lived in the Philippines for about thirty years, and had been married to a Filipina for twenty-five years. “I have watched the Philippines up close and personal. I can tell you right now that the Philippines is the darling of the investment community,” Wright said. “Three years ago, you would not see a single sky crane anywhere in Metro Manila,” Wright offered. “Today, you look out and see them all over. If you go to Subic (Bay) there is no lay of land that you could do a project on. If you look at the number of hotels feeding the tourist industry, and the signs of medical tourism, it is happening. The container ports are there. No matter where you go, you are seeing a building boom,” Wright asserted. “It is really happening now; it is materializing.”

This was Wright’s response to a question from one of the journalists who asked why progress has not trickled down to the impoverished and middle-class Filipinos despite the ongoing construction boom and economic activities.

To buttress his assertions, Wright drew compared the movie, The Perfect Storm to the current economic environment in the Philippines. “In the movie, several everyday occurrences and events came together at precisely the right time and in an unprecedented manner to create “the perfect storm on the open sea,” he explained. “The same phenomenon is now occurring in the Philippine economy – except in this case, it is the forces of the market and business communities acting in unison.”

“The first force is the effect of the Chinese economy, which is the world’s third largest and is poised to outpace the US, along with the Philippines’ strategic position on the doorstep of China,” Wright explained. “The second influence impacting Philippine growth is the country’s geographic position in the center of Southeast Asia and at the crossroads of the Pacific,” Wright said.

His company, Dubai-based Peregrine Development International, has made a $2.5 Billion investment at Clark called Global Gateway Logistics City – a 177-hectare master planned aviation-oriented logistics and business center aimed at serving aviation and logistics-related businesses, including warehousing, distribution, and transportation.

Confronted with the devastating financial crisis in the West, many Middle Eastern investors, including Peregrine, are looking to diversify to minimize their risk. Many Arabs have looked to other markets such as Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

“This optimism is not something in the future,” Dwight said. “I went to a Pussycat Dolls concert (in Manila) about two weeks ago,” he revealed. “30,000 Filipinos went and the most expensive seat was PhP6,650; the next was PhP5,000. Why? Filipinos have money that they are spending. It’s trickle-down economics.”

Wright said that the despite the global recession the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) remittances are on track of what it was last year: $15 Billion again this year. “Why? The mix of overseas Filipinos that are going is higher. You have more professionals, nurses, train operators, engineers. A lot of Filipinos are in recession-proof jobs, and the Saudis depend on the OFW workforce, and they are not going to let them go,” Wright explained.

The Philippine government has converted Clark and Subic into viable economic zones since they were taken over from the United States in 1991. Initially, after the bases’ conversion into economic zones, the bases operated independently from each other. Today, these zones, although being run by two different government agencies, are working with each other to achieve the same goals, positioning themselves as globally competitive air, ship and logistics hubs in the Southeast Asian-Pacific region.

“We are now not only talking business but also doing business,” declared Secretary and Internal Affairs Adviser Edgardo Pamintuan. “This is now walking the talk,” he quipped. “Of course all these would not have been possible were it not for the genius and foresight of President Gloria Arroyo, to transform these bases into bastions of economic activity,” Pamintuan commented.

He said that Clark is now the home of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which is being managed by the Clark International Airport Corporation. The DMIA complex is comprised of a 2,367-hectare area within the Clark Freeport Zone. The airport is now designated as a new international gateway. “Last year, DMIA had an international traffic of 500,000 passengers,” Pamintuan announced. “This year, we will have no less than 20 per cent of growth.” Pamintuan said that the DMIA has become the favorite airport of low-fair airlines.

The DMIA is now handling international flights to Korea, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau and Kota Kinabalu. There are now 11 domestic flights to Cebu and to Boracay.

Since the construction of the 100-kilometer highway connecting Subic Bay with Clark -- the umbilical cord between the two zones -- standards and processes have been laid down between the two free ports.

Pamintuan also announced that a North Rail system connecting Clark to Manila is in the pipeline. At Subic, two new terminals have been added that are capable of handling up to 600,000 containers. “We can do more during the last 10 months of this administration,” Pamintuan said, at the same acknowledging that poverty is still rampant. “There are still lots of people who are living in quagmire and poverty,” he said. “You cannot do it overnight.”

He said that the country has achieved the highest gross domestic product (GDP) of 7.2 per cent in 2007, at the time that the global economy was creeping in. Last year, despite the recession, the country still managed a 4.6 per cent growth in GDP, and this year, still managed to grow by 1 per cent. “We have been paying off our debts ahead of schedule,” Pamintuan revealed.

“But the opposition does not want to look at the doughnut,” Pamintuan observed. “They like to look at the hole of the doughnut. They do not want our projects to be successful. They do not want us to look pogi.” (They do not want us to look good). (Rene Villaroman/AJPress)

03 July 2009

SBMA, PCE set 'GO NEGOSYO’ seminars for displaced Subic workers

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) have joined forces to empower displaced Subic workers through proper education on the fundamentals of running a business.

SBMA administrator Armand Arreza and PCE founding trustee Ma. Jose Concepcion III signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City on Monday for a collaboration in the conduct of the “Go Negosyo” seminar series.

Arreza said the seminar will initially benefit 200 former workers in this free port who are planning to venture into small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the tourism industry.

The two-day comprehensive seminar, including books and hand-outs, which normally costs about P1,000 per participant, will be given free to the workers, Arreza said.

The signing of the agreement was witnessed by SBMA labor manager Severo Pastor Jr., SBMA public relations manager Armina Belleza Llamas, PCE executive director Ramon Lopez, and PCE programs development manager Myra Dorothy Lorredo.

PCE is a non-stock, non-profit organization that advocates “Go Negosyo” and believes that Filipinos can address poverty by engaging in entrepreneurship.

“If all Filipinos will form a small group and start their own small or medium enterprises, our economy will definitely boom to progress,” said Concepcion who is also the presidential consultant for entrepreneurship.

“Putting up your own business is easy, especially when you have the capital. However, keeping the business going and profitable is another issue and this is where PCE comes in,” he added.

Under the SBMA-PCE agreement, the PCE will conduct a series of seminars, which focus on developing entrepreneurial mindsets and unifying key stakeholders to build an environment conducive to starting a business.

Concepcion said that many small and medium entrepreneurs lose their business in a short span of operation due to their failure to understand clearly some basic business know-how, or because of the lack of financial studies.

“For instance, it is important that the entrepreneurs know who their clients are, what product to offer, or how to keep records of the business. This is what we are going to teach these aspiring entrepreneurs,” he said.

“More importantly”, Concepcion added, “Kung saan ka magaling iyon ang dapat ma-highlight para tiyak na mayroon kang interes at naiitindihan mo ang loob at labas ng negosyo.”

Arreza, meanwhile, said the seminar is basically a “culture training,” which will help participants understand fully the compelling reasons for starting a business, choosing the right market, preparing business proposals for bank financing, and managing finances effectively.

“Marami kasi sa kababayan natin ang kung ano na lang ang gustong ibenta dahil malakas ito sa market, but later on maggagayahan at darami ang magkakaparehong paninda at malulugi na,” Arreza said.

The SBMA official also said that to ensure the viability of the SMEs to be put up by former Subic workers, the SBMA is currently studying the possibility of limiting the type of businesses that can be operated by foreigners here.

Noting that some foreign investors have lately ventured into operating even small kiosks inside the Subic Freeport, Arreza said that this type of operation should be reserved for businesses put up by former Subic workers.

“In the future, we would like to see that 20 percent of the Subic workforce will come from SMEs,” Arreza also said. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


Photo caption: PCE founding trustee Ma. Jose Concepcion III and SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza sign an agreement to conduct "Go Negosyo" seminars for displaced workers in the Subic Bay Freeport.

Aussie ambassador leads ‘hell ship’ remembrance in Subic

Sixty-seven years after the sinking of “hell ship” Montevideo Maru off the coast of Luzon, Australian nationals led by their ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith went all the way to Subic Bay to honor their fallen countrymen.

In a simple ceremony held at the Hellship Memorial fronting the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administration building, Smith and World War-II veterans, as well as relatives of those who perished onboard Montevideo Maru, unveiled a plaque memorializing “Australia’s greatest disaster at sea.”

Smith said “hell ships” refer to vessels used by the Japanese Imperial Army to transport Allied prisoners of war (POW) to places where they would be used for forced labor.

As Allied forces closed in at the end of World War II, these POWs were transferred in cargo holds of hell ships with little air, food, or water for journeys lasting for weeks.

These hell ships, or “Jigoku Sen” in Japanese, were unmarked, making them legitimate targets for the Allied forces.

The ill-fated Montevideo Maru which took off from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on June 22, 1942 has 1,054 people onboard, including 71 Japanese crewmen and guards. It was torpedoed by the American submarine Sturgeon nine days later, as it was on its way to Hainan Island..

“There was no trace of these men taken prisoner, and the families of these men still grieve,” said Smith.

The Australian nationals consoled each other through prayers, and laid wreaths during the ceremony here which started at 11:00 a.m. and ended promptly at noon..

“This is ample proof that emotional wounds never really healed,” said a teary-eyed Clive Troy, member of the Australian Return Service League (RSL), who promotes Australian support for the Hellships Memorial here.

Also present at the ceremony, aside from members of the Australian Embassy and SBMA officials, were Papua New Guinea Association of Australia representative Andrea Williams, Olongapo City Mayor James “Bong” Gordon Jr., and members of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles Association, RSL Subic Bay, and RSL Angeles.

The Subic memorial, which was built through private donations and inaugurated in 2005, commemorated the sinking of the hell ship Oryoku Maru that limped into the Subic Bay after being attacked by U.S. Navy aircraft on December 13, 1944. On board were 1,600 American prisoners en route to Japan.

The Oryoku Maru burned off Subic’s Naval Station after additional attacks, then sank about 100 yards off the site where the hell ship memorial stands today. (SBMA Corporate Communications)


PHOTO:
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith pays tribute to compatriots who perished in the “hell ship” Montevideo Maru, which sank off Luzon during World War II.

Legenda continues to defy Subic authorities

The operator of a hotel chain here has defied orders of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to stop its operations and vacate its leased properties, claiming the free-port authority has no legal or factual basis to terminate its lease.

The Legend International Resorts Limited (LIRL), which operates the Legenda Resort Hotel and Casino, said in a statement that it continues to operate because it has both the right to do business and the right to remain in its leased premises.

Recently, the SBMA said it canceled the LIRL’s certificate of registration and tax exemption (CRTE) and permit to operate (PTO), and terminated the firm’s lease agreement after the company failed to pay its debt amounting to more than P850 million.

With its registration and permits voided, “LIRL ceased to become a duly registered Subic Bay Free-Port Zone locator, and its rights and privileges to operate a business, likewise, ceased to exist,” said SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza.

However, LIRL maintained it has the right to continue operating in Subic even after the SBMA issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) on June 9.

When the SBMA blocked the main entrance to Legenda Hotel and closed its service bay over the weekend, LIRL responded by urging guests to use Legenda’s side entrance.

In a statement to the public, LIRL pointed out that its CRTE, which SBMA has voided as of May 22, “is a property right [that] cannot be canceled without due process of law.”

“SBMA’s cancellation thereof is without any legal or factual basis,” the LIRL said, adding it has thus appealed SBMA’s action with the office of President Arroyo.

Aside from insisting on its right to conduct business here, LIRL also said it has the right to remain in the premises because the amounts being claimed by the SBMA “represent unsubstantiated and unverified arrears,” and that the authority “continues to accept our rental payments.”

The LIRL also pointed out that SBMA’s claim of preference “is against a Hong Kong company, which is subject to Hong Kong laws on liquidation.”

“Hong Kong laws would determine matters concerning LIRL and its obligations,” the defiant Subic investor also said in the statement.

As this developed, the SBMA clarified that the LIRL is indeed a Hong Kong-registered firm that “apparently [does] business not in Hong Kong, but principally in [the Subic Bay Free Port].”

It added that LIRL’s majority shareholder, with a 59.99 percent stake, is Metroplex Berhad, a company listed on the Malaysian Stock Exchange.

According to the SBMA, Metroplex has lease agreements with the SBMA over the main Legenda facility, as well as several estates in Subic that include some properties the firm had given up recently.

As to why the SBMA is seeking to repossess properties now occupied by LIRL, it said the Malaysian-owned firm “owes SBMA unpaid rentals and casino share since 2004” that now total P850.17 million.

The SBMA said after the LIRL experienced financial difficulties, the firm filed a debtor-initiated petition for corporate rehabilitation on November 5, 2004, with the Regional Trial court in Olongapo City, leading the same court to issue a stay order that barred the SBMA from collecting on its claims from the beleaguered firm.

It added that following a creditor-initiated petition for rehabilitation on October 13, 2006, the court finally approved a rehabilitation plan that was premised on, among others, “reestablishing gaming operations, as well as the continuation of the existing hospitality business.”

However, the SBMA said two years after the LIRL rehabilitation plan was approved, it noted that “the said plan was going nowhere.”

Thus, on October 9, 2008, the SBMA filed a motion to terminate the rehabilitation proceedings, arguing that the LIRL had failed to get a casino license, and that it had given up its leases on other hotels and entertainment facilities that were an integral part of the firm’s hospitality business.

On February 9, the court granted the SBMA’s motion to dismiss the rehabilitation case and lift the stay order that the court has issued earlier, thus leading LIRL’s institutional financial creditors to seek the issuance of temporary restraining order (TRO) against the SBMA.

However, the three different divisions of the Court of Appeals with whom the petitions were filed had not issued any TRO or writ of preliminary injunction, the SBMA said.

In the absence of any TRO or injunction, the SBMA said it sent LIRL on February 12 a notice of default on the lease of Legenda Suites, a hotel complex in Subic’s Cubi Point, and a notice of termination on the lease on the Legenda Hotel, which is located across the road from the SBMA’s main office building.

The SBMA said it sent the notices of default and demand letters to LIRL “in order to protect the interests of the government and collect the huge unpaid rentals and casino share of LIRL.”

On April 15, the SBMA was able to repossess the Legenda Suites, using a provision in the lease agreement that in case of default, it may “immediately reenter, renovate , or relet all or part of the property and cancel all rights and privileges granted to tenants.” (Henry Empeño, Business Mirror Online)