US Navy, Olongapo, Subic Bay

It’s Time To Invest In Olongapo

I’ve seen this coming for over a year now. The US military is coming back to Subic Bay and Clark. The Mayor of Olongapo has been working hard, attracting new businesses to the area, improving the Subic Bay Freeport (through the SBMA), and his efforts are paying off. Olongapo has solved one of it’s major problems – the lack of world-class shopping centers – by bringing in SM City Mall and Ayala’s impressive Harbor Point mall.

The Freeport has seen a flurry of activity, ranging from developing and improving infrastructure, building new housing areas, improvements of the shipyard facilities, and ongoing tourism development. The bay is now being used for all kinds of tourism-related water sports, and serves as a host for the Commodore’s Cup, part of the Asian sailing circuit competition. SBMA chairman and administrator Roberto Garcia recently unveiled a new Subic tourism master plan. New projects include converting the Subic Bay International Airport into an integrated tourist destination similar to Singapore’s Sentosa Island, a project that would inject billions of Pesos into the local economy, create thousands of jobs, and potentially attract millions of new tourists every year. Subic Bay recelently enjoyed a cruise ship stopover, and reports say the tourists loved the eco-parks and other attractions offered in the Freeport Zone.

There have been news articles appearing over the last year, discussing the potential for US Military forces to use the Subic Bay Freeport and the Clark Economic Zone. Today, Defense Undersecretary for defense affairs Honorio Azcueta reported that after meeting with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s official US troops can use Clark, Subic bases. American troops, warships and aircraft can once again use their former naval and air facilities in Subic, Zambales and in Clark Field in Pampanga as long as they have prior clearance from the Philippine government.

The US Navy has increased it’s number of port visits in the last year. Sailors are allowed to leave base more frequently and in greater numbers than they were earlier this year. It’s my belief that the Navy is “testing the waters”, so-to-speak, to see if there are any protests or challenges. So far, there’s only been one protest that I’ve heard of, and it was minor.

The United States has recently announced their intention of shifting Naval and Marine forces from Europe to Asia. Currently, the balance is roughly 50/50, and the new plan would be closer to 60/40 in favor of Asia. There has been a lot of talk about moving these forces to Guam and to Australia, but new information states that Australia will not be a permanent home to US Forces, that they will be on “rotational status”,  and the plan to put forces on Guam has been cut by thousands of troops. Many of the troops being moved out of Okinawa will now be stationed in Hawaii instead.

This news report offers a very important piece of information that has largely been unreported. More Marines might come to Hawaii, as Guam expansion fades states:

The administration now intends to send about 4,500 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan to Guam and to rotate an additional 4,000 through Australia, Subic Bay and perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines and Hawaii, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn’t been announced.

Furthermore, a June 1st news article, US to expand Asia role without permanent bases states:

Panetta held up as an example the planned deployment of up to 2,500 Marines in northern Australia under a new agreement.

The US defense chief said he discussed how to carry out the Asia strategy during a visit Thursday to Hawaii, where he met with the head of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, who oversees forces across the region.

“We are testing that approach in Australia. We’re working on developing the same kind of approach in the Philippines and elsewhere,” he said.

It’s my belief that we will see an increase in port visits over the next 6 months, leading up to having troops again stationed at Subic Bay. Perhaps they’ll be in “rotational status”, as the Philippine Constitution doesn’t allow foreign bases on Philippine soil. Regardless, with the military “coming back”, Olongapo will receive a huge boost in the economy including massive job creation. Ships will refuel, resupply and perform maintenance and repairs. Sailors and Marines will get R&R, allowing them to spend money on the local economy. Support facilities will need to be built and populated. More entertainment venues will be developed. It makes no difference that the troops are not “permanently stationed” here. They’ll be here, and they’ll be here in large numbers. They’ll need more support services, and businesses will be developed to provide that support.

It’s a good time to be doing business in Olongapo.

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