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Remembering the Unsung Heroes of Subic and Clark


F-4 Fighter Jets – A common but memorable scene in Clark Air Base back in the late 1980s

There is a remarkable story that needs to be told. It is a story of unsung heroes. It is a story of 20 leaders from different political parties and from various business backgrounds who came together over the course of the past two decades to set an example that is unrivaled in world governments that are too often filled with political intrigue, posturing and theatrics.



Clark AFB Control Tower photographed from the top of the parachute shop (circa 1968)  |   (Photo by GEEIA, US Air Force – Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency)



The aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991


NOW: The Famous Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark


NOW: The Prestigious Subic Yacht Club

It is a headline story that needs to be told and saluted by the citizenry as it represents the best of what civil servants can achieve if they work together to overcome adversity for a greater good. The story is about the transformation of the two former U.S. military installations in Subic and Clark into two highly successful and vibrant commercial and business centres of excellence.


This is nothing short of phenomenal and illustrates the art of the possible and what can be accomplished with a clear and focused strategic vision and agenda that is articulated by a government and executed by a cadre of dedicated civil servants working to achieve the stated objective.


What makes this story so remarkable is that it unfolded, by and large, under the radar screen of the manila political and business elite. That is to say it happened without the traditional Philippine national political machine and business dynasties being involved or leading the way — as Subic and Clark have been, by and large, out of sight and out of mind on the national scene.


In order to put this in perspective and to fully appreciate what has happened at Subic and Clark over the past two decades one has to appreciate the context of what occurred and contrast it with other comparable benchmarks. Let me take you back to the 1980s and a speech in West Berlin given on June 12, 1987 by Ronald Reagan when he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” signaling the beginning of the end of the Cold War.


Once the Berlin Wall came down in the fall of 1989, America quickly began calling for a “Peace Dividend”. After decades of huge military and defense budgets and spending to win the Cold War, Americans were demanding to see some dismantling of the huge U.S. military infrastructure that had grown so large during the decades of fighting that same war.


In 1988, the U.S. Government created a bi-partisan task force called the Bases Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission to evaluate and nominate various military bases that should be declared ‘obsolete’ and closed thereby helping to achieve the elusive “Peace Dividend”. The Commission created a non-partisan approach to review the existing military infrastructure that was called the “BRAC Process”. Once was a base was identified by the BRAC Commission and its name placed on the BRAC list, it became targeted for closure — 350 bases were s0 identified to be closed, consolidated or realigned with other installations.


Once the installations were vacated by the military, local communities assumed responsibility of transforming them into successful commercial endeavors. By and large, this was a very, very painful and difficult process exacerbated by the loss of thousands of jobs and the corresponding spending that had existed in the local economies when the military was present. Most local municipalities in the U.S., even with hundreds of million dollars in government grants and aid, struggled and even failed in trying to transform these massive old military installations into vibrant and successful commercial business ventures.


Contrast this with what happened at Clark and Subic. In 1991 and 1992 respectively, the U.S. military vacated the bases and turned them over to the Philippine Government who had its own dream to transform these two massive military establishments into highly successful commercial enterprises — just as their American counterparts were trying to do. However there were two major differences, first and foremost the two Philippine bases were severely damaged by the tons of ash from Mt. Pinatubo that had blanketed the two bases causing roofs to collapse and the infrastructure to be rendered all but useless; and secondly, the country had no grants or budget to renovate the facilities. This would be like asking Manny Pacquiao to fight with both hands tied behind his back and expect him to win.


Not only did the collective leadership teams at Subic and Clark succeed, they did so with resounding success. They did so through perseverance and determination in the manner and style reminiscent of the Philippine’s best pound for pound fighter. By any measure, the collective leadership teams at Subic and Clark, over a period spanning two decades, are world class champions that should garner the same praise, recognition and respect that Pacquiao has earned.


Consider that at the height of the American military era in the Philippines, the U.S. government employed around 44,000 full time Filipino employees. Today, the workforce population at Subic and Clark exceeds 160,000, which is a fourfold increase. Add to this some 2,000 locators, most of whom are foreign, who now call Subic and Clark home and the $ 9 billion they have invested with over $ 3 billion in annual exports — you quickly see an enviable record of accomplishment that any community would be proud to achieve.


What makes this story so unique is that it is not the result of any one single person, but rather, the culmination of many leaders, from different political parties, who over the period of two decades worked collectively and collaboratively to successfully transform tow badly damaged former U.S. military installations into two vibrant and internationally recognized commercially successful Freeports. What makes this even more special is that it was done, by and large, to go largely unnoticed and under appreciated by the country.


I for one think it is time that Filipinos stand up and applaud the long line of leaders who contributed to this remarkable success story, a list that includes Richard Gordon, Felicito Payumo, Francisco Licuanan, Alfredo Antonio, Feliciano Salonga, Armand Arreza and Roberto Garcia of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in Subic; their  counterparts Antonio Henson, Romeo David, Rufo Coayco, Sergio Naguiat, Rogelio Singson, Emmanuel Angeles, Antonio Ng, Liberato laus, Benigno Ricafort and Felipe Remollo of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) in Clark and Franco Puzon, Adelberto Yap, Augusto Francia and Victor Luciano of the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC). Clearly there are many in the national government who also deserves credit for setting a  clear vision and strategy for the transformation of the bases and the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) for its overarching guidance as does the local governments and officials for their unfailing support of those charged with transforming the former bases. However the real heroes in my mind are those who were in the trenched each and every day in SBMA, CDC and CIAC who worked with limited resources, and often in the face of criticism, to overcome adversity to make it all happen.


Subic and Clark represents the best of the Philippines — Filipinos working silently, persistently and without fanfare for the welfare and benefit of their country and its people. I believe these individuals should be singled out, applauded and publicly recognised for what they have collectively and collaboratively achieved and I would hope that President Aquino would one day call them all to Malacañang for a special Recognition Dinner and Ceremony in their honour and to acknowledge each and every one of them for their personal dedication, perseverance and teamwork in making all this happen, for they truly are Unsung Heroes.



Author: Dennis Wright of Peregrine International Development
Photo source:
Clark Air Base 1968 –






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