"Olongapo - Subic Bay Freeport Zone" Olongapo by StefanosS

Olongapo Travel Guide: 17 reviews and 49 photos

Subic bay got its name from the small Subic town at the northern part of the bay. Olongapo is the big city in the area and the big port. Both Subic and Olongapo belong to Zambales province.

The Subic Bay Freeport Zone was created nearby, when the big US naval base hosting the 7th fleet was evacuated. Actually SBFZ belongs to Bataan province but it is closely connected to Olongapo than to any of the Bataan cities.

Many people refer to SBFZ simply as "Subic", although Subic and Subic Bay Freeport Zone are different locations.

SBFZ is governed by SBMA (=Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority).

Subic Bay Freeport Zone is both a business and resort area. My short stay there and the rain did not allow me to see much of the nearby Olongapo city and the area. I have not to describe anything impressive.

According to the tourist guides:

Worry should have no place even among first-time visitors of SBFZ. Upon arrival at the Freeport, guests may opt to directly proceed to SBMA Tourism Department (Bldg. 662, Barryman corner Taft Street, Central Business District) or request one of over 50 Department of Tourism-trained guides at (63-47) 252-4123/ 4242.

Friendly SBMA policemen will also readily give you useful getting-around-directions or in getting a cab to take you to your intended destination.

The Discovery of Subic & The Fiery Storms

Nearly 86 years after Spain had established in September 1776 its main naval base in Manila Bay, the British took over the place, which prompted the Spanish military to scout for the next promising naval station. The expedition returned with the good news for the naval command - a natural bounty and deep waters at Subic Bay. King Alfonso II issued a decree in 1884 that declared Subic as "a naval port and the property appertaining thereto set aside for naval purposes". Construction of an arsenal and ship repair yard ensued March 8 the following year, as ordered by the new settlers' Naval Commission. Subic Bay's potential as naval station reached the land of Commodore George Dewey, that in 1898, he and his men engaged in a battle that destroyed the Spanish Army. The US banner was settled in Subic Bay in December 10, 1899.

In 1902, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, Commander of the Asiatic Stations, directed 200 Marines for an expeditionary force for the first US fleet exercise in Asian waters. Guns were erected on Grande Island and Admiral Evans laid plans for emergency repairs of the station at Subic Bay but was denied assistance by the US. Five years later, the US Congress finally appropriated funds for a full-scale Subic Bay Naval Reservation. Words from then President Theodore Roosevelt goes: "If we are to exert the slightest influence in Western Asia, it is of the highest importance that we have a naval station in Subic Bay."

US was drawn into the war in Europe; Filipinos and Americans worked together to prepare the battleships for World War I. As if that was not enough, workers at Subic Bay also overhauled 26 German ships, that had been used to transport thousands of American troops to Europe. Likewise, this period gave way for different developments: Olongapo had a taste of some of its best years; the base was lined with trees and plants, and several recreational facilities were constructed.

But the skies over the Bay were suddenly raining with stick bombs - the Japanese claimed Subic and Olongapo on January 10, 1942, days after the Pearl Harbor attack, bringing with them the devastation of World War II. Many Filipinos and Americans were killed, several buildings were destroyed, seven seaplanes were sunk, and lines of telephones and telegraphs were sabotaged.

The Marines were ordered to withdraw into Bataan then soon to Corregidor, burning all buildings left standing after the Japanese attack. Filipinos torched all the war's ruins in Olongapo. Filipinos have been subjected to the cruelty of the Japanese for three years, after which the American made a forceful rebound and reoccupied the base on January 29, 1945.

The Marine station underwent massive reconstruction and was again ready for naval endeavors on September 26, 1945. Shortly after the marines resumed their duties, the Tydings-McDuffie Law set provision for Philippine independence and was granted on July 4, 1946. Nonetheless, the US maintained that it would still retain the country's military bases. The Philippines, acknowledging its frailty in the Cold War, entered into the RP-US Military Bases Agreement on March 14, 1947. The US was granted the right to retain sixteen military bases and to administrate the town of Olongapo.

Several significant urbanization projects were orchestrated, but the most challenging was as gigantic as displacing half the part of a 1,200-foot mountain, that needed around 20 million man-hours, and required five years of labor - the exceptional air station and pier construction of the Seabees was the highlight of 1956 in Subic Bay. Another accomplishment at the height of the cold war was ammunition bunkers and buildings that occupied over 12,400 acres of the Southwestern part of Subic Bay. Set in the tropical rainforest, ammunition and ordinance from these facilities played a big role in the Vietnam War and in the Gulf War of 1991.

A Change of Route Amidst Nature's Wrath

Subic Bay was now on the rise of being one of the best training areas in the Corps. But with the US - Japan tension heating up, appropriations for operation and maintenance of the base fell short. Hawaii came in the scene; funding of the development of Pearl Harbor as US main station in the Pacific earned the thumbs up of the Congress. Subic took its ill fate - a promising harbor was left as a small repair station.

The original 1947 military pact between the Philippines and the US has been amended. The year 1979 witnessed a turning point for both countries - Philippines claimed a sovereign rule over the base and the US area of responsibility was reduced from 24,000 hectares to 6,300 hectares. What followed was a series of events that would change the course of Subic Bay forever. On June 15, 1991, volcanic ashes and debris rained over the base, devastating Subic Bay and neighboring provinces. Mt. Pinatubo's fury has left the navy and air force no option but to evacuate all their dependents.
When Pinatubo's rage came to a halt, and American and Filipino personnel restored the base, bringing it back to business in no time.

Uncertainty continued hovering the Philippine Senate with regard to the termination of the 1947 treaty. Months-long discussions were held; parliamentary proceedings were organized; and a pro-bases rally was staged, but to no avail. September 16, 1991 surfaced a conclusion - The US had to withdraw its forces and equipment from Clark and Subic, having received the rejection of 12 senators on the earlier proposed new treaty. The lowering of the Stars and Stripes followed suit. The Navy bid farewell to America's nine decades of military presence on Philippine soil.

Moving On Toward Greater Heights

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) was born following Republic Act 7227 mandating Subic Bay Naval Base to be developed into a "self-sustaining commercial, industrial, financial, transshipment, and tourism center."

From the first SBMA chairman Richard J. Gordon to his successor Felicito Payumo, the Freeport has been a bustling hub for commerce ant tourism, thereby generating jobs and revenues from local and foreign investments.

The newly appointed SBMA Director Alfredo Antonio and Chairman Francisco Licuanan 2nd will "continue upon the good" of their predecessors' accomplishments and will entice even more multinational investors, yet assure domestic and foreign locators of a level playing field and continued support.

  • Last visit to Olongapo: Aug 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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