Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life after the bases: the Subic model

Life after the bases: the Subic model

Friday, 20 November 2009 04:02 by Mar-Vic Cagurangan | Variety News Staff
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GUAM recently forged a memorandum of understanding with Olongapo City, sealing the sister-city ties between two jurisdictions with economic experiences fueled by U.S. military bases.

“It is a bane and a boon; it is positive and negative,” Philippine Sen. Richard Gordon said of the military presence. “But I don’t believe in the ‘victimization’ attitude. I saw the bases as a boon; I turned negative into positive.”

Gordon, who is running for Philippine president next year, was mayor of Olongapo City, and is credited with turning the former U.S naval base at Subic Bay into a prosperous free port zone.

During the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the early 1980s, Gordon conducted a study detailing a contingent plan to convert Subic Bay into an economic zone in the event that U.S. bases pulled out. “He didn’t believe me, so I just put the study on the shelves.”

In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to reject a renewal of the military bases agreement between the two nations. The Senate’s action was followed by a Mount Pinatubo eruption which buried the Subic Naval Base in Olongapo City and Clark Air Field in Angeles City under tons of ash. This hastened the departure of U.S. military personnel.

The base closures prompted Gordon to revive the plan, which eventually came to materialize. Using a $350,000 grant from the United States as seed money, Gordon turned Subic Bay into a multibillion dollar investment destination creating 97,000 jobs.

“I wanted to make Olongapo City a model city. I wanted to build a second city—a city within the city,” Gordon said.

He did.

Gordon became the chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which runs the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, the Philippines' first successful military base conversion through volunteerism.

Economic model

Senator Eddie B. Calvo believes Guam must look beyond the horizon and explore the opportunities beyond the troop buildup.

“Guam now has a choice,” said Calvo, author of the legislative resolution that established the sister-city relationship between Guam and Olongapo City. “We can settle for the $15 billion investment and watch the boom end, or we can raise new industries and make Guam the focal point of Asian and American economic interests.”

While looking at the Subic model for the island, Calvo believes Guam’s future and “its shared path to prosperity with the Philippines” hinges on so much more than the military buildup, which will attract more than 15,000 skilled workers from the Philippines to build Guam’s capacity.

“Guam’s economy has the potential to grow beyond the $15 billion military investment,” Calvo said, adding that Guam can cash in on its position as “America in Asia” to develop new industries and expand its economic base.


Frank Campillo, outgoing chairman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce board of directors, sees the economic opportunities that lie ahead but is skeptical about how local government leaders handle the processes of change.

“Will we seize this opportunity? Will we be able to shed those thoughts that many continue to harbor as victims of something? Will we be smart enough to manage this opportunity and make something of this entire process so our children will have a better future?” he asked.

“I am a bit gloomy,” Campillo said, “with some of the processes and ineptitudes that we see in many areas of government today and the low expectations for change that our community seems to have with this government.”

More questions nag him: “Will our current and, more important, future political leaders be able to shed away their differences and work together to make the best of this potential?”


For Gordon, confronting challenges is a matter of having the right attitude and leading people in the right direction.

“Before we started rebuilding Subic, I asked for volunteers to start the process. I gave them a vision. I put them on a value mode. What the country needed was not a change in men, but a change in men’s attitude.

His spiels inspired over 8,000 people to volunteer.

“Guam can overcome its challenges,” Gordon said. “If you put a vision in front of people and set before them a value mode, you can make things happen. You can have a GPS for Guam: Guam Progress System.”

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