Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority—November 24, 1992.
Thirty years after the helicopter carrier USS Belleau Wood sailed out of Subic Bay that ended an almost century of stay by the American military here, this former biggest overseas naval base of the United States—at one point drydock facility of the US Seventh Fleet – now stands out as a thriving economic zone and beckoning a bright and progressive future for the community.
The remarkable growth of the abandoned base over nearly three decades has completely wiped out all the gloom and doom and the prevailing pessimism at that time regarding the future of a community and its people whose existence totally depended on the presence of the American base.
It was an outcome hardly expected, considering a destructive volcanic eruption of nearby Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991 followed by a rejection of an extension of a treaty by the Philippine Senate in September of the same year.
More than 350 people died during the Pinatubo eruption, most of them from collapsing roofs.
Disease that broke out in evacuation camps and the continuing mud flows in the area caused additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to 722 people. The event left more than 200,000 people homeless.
In December 1991, there was a last-ditch attempt by both the US and the Philippine governments to negotiate an extension that would allow a prolonged withdrawal of the US military.
But this too bogged down and the then President Corazon Aquino issued a formal notice for the US to leave Subic by the end of 1992.
The then City Mayor Richard Gordon mustered and mobilized an army of volunteers, numbering some 8,000, to take over the abandoned base and protect and preserve the US$8 billion properties and facilities left by the US Navy.
Gordon, a former Senator and Red Cross Chair, used his charisma and a strong and decisive type of leadership to inspire and motivate his people to chart their own future by volunteering for the newly-created government agency – the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority – and thus, began the journey to the present Subic Bay.
(The author, a long-time resident of Olongapo City, is one of the original volunteers. He has served as public information officer of SBMA).