Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBF) which is known simply as Subic Bay is the Philippines’ first successful military base conversion through volunteerism into a tax and duty free zone like Hong Kong or Singapore operated and managed by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority or SBMA. It covers the fenced area of the former U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay located in the southwest of Luzon Island in the Philippines and surrounded by the municipalities of Subic and Olongapo City in Zambales and Hermosa and Morong in Bataan in concurrence of their Sangguniang Bayan pursuant to Section 12 of RA 7227. The harbor is facing the Zambales Mountain Range in the west and the Subic Bay opening up to the South China Sea. It is northwest of the Bataan Peninsula and southwest of the Zambales Province.
SBF is 110 kilometers north of Manila. Manila Bay and the Bataan Peninsula separate SBF from Manila. The mountain ranges around the Subic Bay area and the deep natural harbor provide excellent and protected anchorage. In addition, these features make SBF naturally sheltered from typhoons as well as from the effects of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
Subic Bay Freeport is in Region III or the Central Luzon Region. It is one of the points in the growth triangle and is an engine for economic development in the region. SBF is a supplier of services and products for the Central Luzon Development Program, a regional growth area composed of the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales.
Subic Bay is surrounded by the town of Subic and Olongapo City, both in the province of Zambales. Development of Olongapo City was largely tied to the presence of the United States Navy base at Subic Bay, once the largest U.S. military naval base in Asia. An arsenal and ship-repair facility was established at Subic Bay in 1885 by the then colonial power, Spain. Following the Spanish-American war, Subic Bay became a U.S. Navy and Marine base, and grew to be a major facility. Until 1991, it was the base of the United States 7th Fleet.
In early 1991, after the collapse of protracted negotiations, the Philippine Senate rejected terms for renewal of the lease of the base. The US Navy was already in the process of downsizing its Subic operations in June 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted. One of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 100 years, it covered the Navy Base in volcanic ash and collapsed a significant number of structures. The last ship, USS Belleau Wood, left on November 24, 1992.
Surprisingly the departure of the Americans did not spell doom. Subic Bay was converted into a commercial zone largely through the efforts of some 8,000 residents of nearby Olongapo City, under the leadership of their mayor, Richard Gordon, who volunteered to protect and preserve 8 billion dollars worth of facilities and property from looting and destruction. Subic has since been transformed and became a model for bases conversion into commercial use after the Cold War with blue chip companies like Coastal Petroleum, Enron and Fed Ex pumping in over $3 billion of investments creating 70,000 jobs in the free port’s first four years. It was host to the 4th APEC Leaders’ Summit on November 24, 1996 and . FedEx’s Asia-Pacific hub, Asia-One, was also located in Subic Bay for almost ten years.
In addition to commercial use, Subic Bay is also a popular destination for weekend visitors from Metro Manila. Attractions include several beaches, an underwater aquarium, jungle survival tours, racing and duty-free shopping centers.
Subic Bay Today
Subic Bay, the Philippines’ first free port, continues to be one of the country’s major economic engines with more than 700 investment projects, including the 4th largest shipbuilding facility in the world (Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC)). Currently upgrading its port facilities through the Subic Bay Port Development Project and forging ties with the Clark Special Economic Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga to form the Subic-Clark Corridor via the 45-kilometer Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, these once bastions of western military might are now being positioned to become the most competitive international service and logistics center in Southeast Asia.
As a destination, Subic Bay has maintained its allure that once charmed US servicemen and their families. Its community continues to preserve and protect the bay, its surrounding forests and its flora and fauna. Interesting sights to see are its resident eco-tourism theme parks, the Ocean Adventure, the country’s only open-sea marine park, Zoobic Safari, and the Pamulaklakin Nature Park which is home to the indigenous Aetas who once trained the U.S. Navy jungle survival tactics.