As the Subic Bay Freeport Zone commemorated its 25th founding anniversary, Senator Dick Gordon commended the volunteers for the successful creation of the Freeport from the ashes of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and the impending economic disaster brought about by the departure of the American military from Subic Bay.
Gordon said the people were the key that made Subic what it is today – the framework for bases conversion in the country and one of the best examples of bases conversion ventures in the world, as international media described it shortly after its creation.
“Kung meron tayong Subic ngayon, it’s because of the people who volunteered. We were successful because of the many people who sacrificed themselves. At that time a lot of people were prejudiced against it. They didn’t think that people would come here without pay and put their future on the line and put their sacrifice as their capital so that we could have or make the future,” the father of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said.
“So I congratulate you all. Pag nakikita ko ang volunteers, tumataba ang puso ko. Twenty-five years ago, we succeeded in turning a vision into reality. We did not let our fears stop us. We did not fear the future, instead we made the future our friend. And thus, we succeeded in showing the world that, together, we can move forward on our own and get the job done. We received no salary then, but we got an excessive amount of appreciation and, more importantly, respect from the Filipino people for what we were doing in Subic,” he added
Gordon recalled that aside from being afraid, their first battle was a battle of integrity, a battle against themselves to ensure that the base and its facilities and the equipment and furniture inside would be preserved and protected.
“That was the biggest struggle of all – to be able to win against ourselves and the temptation of bringing stuff out. And nobody took anything out. There was a lot of temptation but we prevailed over all of that and somehow the Almighty always protected us from hunger and made sure that we conquered our fear. I recall the exquisite joy and absolute pride as we celebrated our first year of victory over seemingly insurmountable odds, as we reveled over our collective achievements in writing the first few pages of Subic’s history as an emerging free port and special economic zone,” he said.
The founding chairman and administrator of SBMA also advised the agency’s current officials to keep on dreaming big for Subic and to remember that duty, dignity and determination, unity, cooperation, and love for country are the values that created the Freeport.
“And so, as the Subic community moves forward today, as you face more years and more challenges, do not forget the lessons of the past as you set your sights to tomorrow. Aim high. Look for a new abyss and dare to stand by its edge. Stare new fears in the face. Do these things, for that, is how we built Subic then. And that is the only way you can build a better Subic today and in the coming years,” Gordon said. “Again, my gratitude goes to all the people who answered our call 25 years ago, and to those who followed in our path to make Subic work. We have set out to make a difference. And looking back now, we know that we have succeeded,” he added.
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. He said that with 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 last U.S. Navy helicopter carrier USS Belleau Wood 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 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.