22 February 2010

Guam to learn from Subic ‘best practices’

Two senators from Guam said the example set by Olongapo City and this freeport zone, former hosts of the biggest US naval base outside continental America, is crucial to the military buildup on their island.

Sen. Edward Calvo said the $15-billion military buildup in Guam is “unlike anything that we have seen before.”

“There are tremendous opportunities here,” said Calvo, one of the US officials who attended the third annual Association of Pacific Islands Local Government (APILG) Conference here.

Calvo, who marveled at the transformation of the former American naval base into an economic zone, said because of Olongapo City’s experience in hosting the base, “there is much that we can learn from you.”

“We have to find out what works and what doesn’t, and there is no better way to do that than by learning from your example,” he said.

Center for best practices

Calvo said a “center for best practices” should be established to facilitate the transfer of learning from Olongapo to Guam.

Guam Sen. Tina Rose Muña Barnes, who also attended the APILG, said the supply of workers in Guam is insufficient to meet the demands of the military buildup.

“We simply do not have the manpower required and so the number of [foreign] workers involved in the project will increase by the thousands in the next few years. The people of Guam are facing a significant impact as a direct result of the relocation [of the US base in Okinawa],” she said.

Barnes also raised concern on the project’s impact on the environment, which she said will “be great and… deep” when Guam’s natural harbors are dredged.

Impact on environment

“The devastating and frustrating effects of the buildup is that it will destroy—unless a way is found to mitigate it—a hundred living species of coral on the island,” she said.

Barnes said this was a treasure that needed to be protected. “We need to protect the marine life on [the island for future generations],” she said.

Barnes said the environmental issue has generated “intense and heated debates.”

“We have less than 90 days to assess the impact, have public meetings, listen to testimony about the economic and environmental impact estimate,” she said.

Another issue on the buildup is the increase in Guam’s population and the stress it’s putting on waste management, she said.

“We’re looking at an influx of more than 70,000 individuals. It will [increase] the [volume of] waste generated on the island,” she said.

Barnes said the impact on the environment and quality of life in Guam is so great that the draft of the assessment runs to “10 volumes, containing 11,000 pages, which is about 14 feet high altogether.”

Olongapo Mayor James Gordon Jr. assured Guam officials that the city would help them.

“We will try to help them with the other issues that they face. As I have said before, this is nothing new to us. And since the US bases have left our shores, what we can do now is to try to supply them with our skilled labor and knowledge based on our experience,” Gordon said. (Robert Gonzaga, Philippine Daily Inquirer)