08 July 2013

Subic wows Japan defense chief

Seeing the economic capabilities of this premier Freeport, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera came here to talk to Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) officials on how to convert Okinawa into the next Subic Freeport.

Onodera’s delegation, who came before the 19th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), met with SBMA Chairman Robert Garcia, who showed off an audio video presentation of how Subic Bay Freeport transformed from a military base into the country’s economic flagship.

Last year, the United States and Japan agreed that about half the US Marines in Okinawa will soon leave, a move that could help alleviate the Japanese resentment building up due to the presence of Americans in their island.

The move is also one of the plans of the Obama administration in the US to spread their military forces all over the Pacific region, a move that has irked the Chinese government.

The planned transfer would leave the Japanese government parcels of land that they can use for other purposes, mainly economic.

Subic Bay Freeport’s Cinderella tale came when the US military left the area after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

On March 13, 1992, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act 7227, known as the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992, creating the Subic Bay Freeport as the first Philippine free port, in anticipation of the pullout of the US naval base facilities.

Section 13 of RA 7227 created the SBMA and with free port incentives lobbied for by Richard Gordon – the city mayor then – resulting in an amendment granting tax and duty-free privileges and incentives during the bicameral committee hearings. Consequently, Gordon, then the mayor of the City of Olongapo, became the first SBMA chairman.

Mayor Gordon with 8,000 volunteers took over the facility to preserve and protect US$8 billion worth of property and facilities when the last US Navy helicopter carrier USS Belleau Wood sailed out of Subic Bay on Nov. 24, 1992 and started the conversion of the military base into a free port like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Richard Gordon was SBMA chairman until June 1998, when then President Joseph Estrada issued Administrative Order No. 1, appointing former Bataan Representative and Harvard-trained Felicito C. Payumo in Gordon’s stead.

In August 2004, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 340, reorganizing the SBMA’s Board of Directors, and defining the powers, functions and duties of the chairman. (Jonas Reyes, Manila Bulletin)