Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Visiting ships stir Subic back to life

By Patrick Roxas , PDI Central Luzon Bureau Chief

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Ernesto Sagun appeared to be filled with nostalgia as he watched US warships berth at the Alava Pier here on Tuesday morning.
A former timekeeper at the once bustling Ship Repair Facility (SRF), when the Subic Bay Freeport was still US’s biggest military installation overseas, Sagun told The Manila Times it was a very familiar sight he had almost forgotten.
Sagun was looking at the military vessels at the pier and the people bustling with their assigned tasks, crewmen and dock workers busy securing the ships, temporary shore services being provided and ships’ provisions being loaded.
“Parang panahon uli ng SRF [It’s like the days of the SRF],” said the diminutive Sagun, now working at the seaport department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority as he nudged his friend, Dan, who quietly watched the hustle and bustle at the pier.
Dan also works at the SBMA seaport department but used to work at the US Navy’s quality and reliability assurance department at the SRF.
Dan used to be the one responsible for ensuring that all repairs and work done on US warships by skilled Filipino craftsmen pass the highest quality standard of the US military.
The two former US base workers were among the thousands of residents who felt mixed emotions as they again saw the Freeport’s pier fill with warships.
The week before last, the British warships HMS Exeter and RFA Grey Roveras docked at the pier as part of a global deployment exercise.
The two British ships were soon followed by American vessels, the guided-missile destroyers USS Russel (DDG-59) and USS McCampbell (DDG-85), landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) and US Coast Guard’s cutter Mellon (WHEC-717) and the salvage and rescue ship USS Salvor (ARS-52).
Local naval ships also arrived for the nine-day naval exercise, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) 2004.
The Philippine Navy’s ships are the BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37), BRP General Mariano Alvarez (PS-38), BRP Lanao del Norte (LC-504), BRP Hilario Ruiz (PG-378), BRP Alberto Navarette (PG-394), BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35), BRP Teotimo Figuracion (PG-389) and the Coast Guard’s BRP Pampanga.
Besides the Carat naval exercises, the Philippine ships are also set to conduct separate exercises with the two British warships.
Nightclubs and bar owners and other business establishments in nearby Olongapo City welcomed reports that the servicemen will not be restricted to the confines of the former US base, but will be allowed to go out in the city for rest and recreation.
“This will be good business for the community even if only a short period of time,” a businessman in Magsaysay Drive, the former red light district of Olongapo, said.
A Chinese businessmen who owns a girlie bar on Gordon Avenue told The Times he still reminisces those days when hundreds of US servicemen walk on the streets of Olongapo and wantonly spend dollars.
“It’s so easy to make money then especially when huge aircraft carriers come to port,” he said.
Olongapo City Mayor James Gordon Jr. has reportedly told businessmen here that liberty will not be limited to the Freeport area only after the US Rear Adm. Kevin Quinn paid him a courtesy call three days ago.
Owners of business establishments immediately rushed to have their respective banners and streamers put out welcoming the servicemen.
Myrna, a 19-year-old guest relations officer in one of the bars here, said she is used to entertaining Taiwanese and Japanese businessmen but feels nervous at the prospect of American customers.
“Syempre nakakatakot mag entertain nung mga ‘Kano’ at ‘Itim,’ ang lalaking tao nun kaya lang dolyar naman ang pera nila kaya susubok na rin ako,” Myrna said.
Even tricycle and jeepney drivers see a good opportunity over the next few days. “Matagal na panahon na rin naman ng huli akong maarkila ng mga sailor. Sana kumita ng maganda ngayon habang andito sila,” said Mang Berto, a 56-year-old jeepney driver plying the Magsaysay route.



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