Subic’s redevelopment should be
part of the present time of building
By The Manila Times, January 13, 2020
THE massive infrastructure development and modernization that is implied by the name Build, Build, Build does not mean only the development of modern infrastructure in places where they are now nowhere to be seen. It means, just as importantly, the modernization of infrastructure in cities and regions that have had the lion’s share of infrastructure development in earlier times.
The old citadels of modernity and industry will not be forgotten, let alone neglected. They will be at the forefront during this time of building.
This is the important message to draw from the news that the Duterte government will invest time and resources for the revival and redevelopment of Subic Bay, once the site of America’s largest naval base in the world.
The decision of the government to forge an agreement with Japan for the redevelopment of Subic, makes plenty of sense in light of Subic’s checkered recent history and the larger context of the administration’s ambitious economic development program.
The new push for Subic’s revival and redevelopment has been principally impelled by Subic’s disappointing performance in revenue generation and industrial development in previous decades. Although it was briefly a rising star upon the return of the base to Philippine hands in 1991, it has subsequently been troubled by the heavy hand and interference of power politics and local political rivalries, by the lack of a comprehensive and effective master plan for development, and the dreadful occurrence of heavy smuggling in the Subic Freeport.
The administration’s new tack will tap Japan as its principal partner for the revival and redevelopment of Subic.
Under the new plan, Subic Bay will be developed through a master plan crafted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This was one of the principal topics of discussion during the recent bilateral meeting between Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Manila.
In the agreement signed in December, JICA will provide technical support for the government’s push for Subic Bay’s revival, through the building of knowledge-based industries, manufacturing capability, public utilities and road networks designed to grow the local economy.
Like Japan, China has been been attracted to the idea of participating in a big way in Subic’s redevelopment. It is financing a P50-billion ($987 million), 71-kilometer freight rail connecting Subic Bay to Clark Freeport, also a former US military base. Chinese investors are also keen to take over Hanjin Heavy Industries’ facilities.
Despite the Philippines’ growing closeness with China under President Duterte, Japan has remained the country’s top source of official development assistance. It has signed 10 loan agreements so far to support the President’s big-ticket infrastructure projects, and there will be more opportunities for funding and technical support as the Build, Build, Build program picks up steam this year.
Creating the new plan will be a heavy challenge for the widely respected and much-experienced JICA.
Subic Bay, of course, is regarded by experts as one of the best and biggest harbors in the world. A natural wonder, the Bay will make available its unrivalled assets to any professional scheme for purposive and rapid development.
Subic may not have the ready workforce and local communities to support a massive program of development. But the country’s demographics and large working population can easily fill any labor shortfall.
The country also has a dynamic private sector and strong services sector that can provide financial and technical support for Subic’s redevelopment.
The nation should get accustomed to seeing Subic in this new light.
Rather than dwelling on its past glories and history, it should make more sense now to focus on the renewal of Subic’s great promise, and its full achievement of modernization and development.
When the history of present times in the Philippines is written, it must surely include a chapter on the sterling contribution of Subic to national history.
That a former foe, Japan, can help us reach this pinnacle is surely part of what is remarkable about this day and age.