Senator Dick Gordon expressed his gratitude to the pioneer investors who answered his call and set up shop when the Subic Bay Freeport and Special Economic Zone was created.
During the commemoration of the Freeport’s 25th founding anniversary, Gordon noted that, aside from the volunteers who sacrificed a lot to ensure the realization of the vision that was Subic, the pioneer locators were Instrumental in its success.
“Thank you for placing your faith in Subic during a most uncertain time,” the veteran legislator said, adding that since the volunteers ensured that the military installation, including its furnitures and fixtures, was preserved and protected, speedy opening of business locators was made possible.
“The military equipment was given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, so we marked them with GOP (Government of the Philippines) or Navy or Army. We made sure that we kept those and that gave us a lot of opportunities to invite folks to come in and there were furnitures and fixtures already in the buildings and that was another incentive for the locators to come in. The buildings were not robbed, the equipment were still there, the air conditioning was still running and so there was a quick start,” the seasoned lawmaker said.
In line with this, the senator from Olongapo and Zambales recounted how residents eagerly lined up to buy imported goods when the first Duty-Free shop opened two days before Christmas Day that year, 1992. This, despite the locator having previously informed him that they would be unable to keep their agreement of opening shop on December 23 because their shipment of goods would not arrive until December 29.
“I was surprised by the long line of shoppers. And among the first on the line with cartful of goods were the people who did not believe me when I vowed that we will have Duty-Free shops before Christmas so that residents could buy the imported goods that only the American military were allowed to buy when they were still here. I asked the locator how he was able after all to open on time. He said they purchased the stocks of goods from Cash and Carry and sold them at Duty-Free prices. The goods were sold at a loss but the locator was able to recoup his losses when his own shipment of stocks finally arrived.
Gordon also cited the succeeding waves of workers who made the Freeport happen by dogged determination, sheer dedication to the community, and unfathomable love for country.
Learning from the experience of Sangley Point when the American military left the naval station, Gordon developed a master plan for the conversion of the Subic Naval Base into a Freeport years before the American military left the base. Gordon said that with citizens of, and businesses in, Olongapo, Subic and the other nearby provinces depending on the base for their livelihood, they would have to prepare for the time when the American military pulls out from Subic so that the people will not be left jobless.
When the U.S. Navy helicopter carrier USS Belleau Wood finally sailed out of Subic Bay on November 24, 1992, Gordon, who was then mayor of Olongapo City, with 8,000 volunteers took over the facility to preserve and protect US$8 billion worth of property and facilities and started the conversion of the military base into a free port like Hong Kong and Singapore.
In the same year, Congress passed Republic Act 7227, known as the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992, which created the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to develop and manage the Freeport which provides tax and duty-free privileges and incentives to business locators in the special economic zone. Gordon became the first SBMA chairman and Subic became the framework for bases conversion in the country.