Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Who sent those raiders to seize the 'Admiral's' cottage at SBMA?

BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven, The Philippine Star

Although I cornered the new Chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), Commodore Feliciano Salonga yesterday when I was the guest speaker at the National Defense College of the Philippines Foundation in the Philippine Army Officers’ Clubhouse in Fort Bonifacio, "Fil" was reticent about the subject. But he confirmed that, although he has a private home outside the Base, he intends to occupy Kalayaan 5000 inside the Subic Freeport.

In truth, Fil – who was named to head the SBMA as Chairman, replacing the resigned Francisco "Kiko" Licuanan and then temporarily acting chairman (and former SBMA Administrator) Alfredo Antonio – was originally reluctant to move into the Subic Freeport residence called Kalayaan 5000. But he belatedly recognized the symbolism involved in being in situ there.

The place on Kalayaan Hill used to be the home of the former US Navy Admiral who ran the Base until the Bases Treaty expired and the Americans packed it up and sailed away. In short, who’s entrenched at Kalayaan 5000, which is perched on a commanding knoll, is perceived to be the Boss in Subic. By tradition, this ought to be the residence of the SBMA Chairman.

What introduced a bit of confusion in the past year is that the previous SBMA Chairman, who ought to have lived there, our friend (former Ayala Land President) Licuanan preferred to live outside, coming to SBMA to preside over Board meetings only twice a month thus permitting Antonio who was SBMA Administrator to occupy the vacant residence.

A bizarre incident occurred last Sunday afternoon which brought the issue to a head. At about 2 p.m., six men in civilian clothes arrived, saying they had come "to secure" the residence. Former Administrator Freddy Antonio had already vacated it, having turned over his position to Armand Arreza, one of Senator Dick Gordon’s protegees, who had been designated SBMA Administrator. Antonio’s son, however, was still in the house packing his things when the six men got there. He asked them who they were. It could have been an uneventful turning over of the keys – except it turned out that the six visitors were not from the SBMA Law Enforcement Department (called LED) at all. They had no official credentials, except that they were former SWAT men of former SBMA Chairman (before Felicito "Tong" Payumo), now Senator Gordon.

Someone, alarmed, rang up the legitimate SBMA LED office and the Law Enforcement Department dispatched a team to investigate about 10 p.m. What was happening? The "alert" was also sent to the Magsaysays, who are political foes of the Gordons and don’t want him back in Subic "controlling" things through Arreza. In any event, SBMA Senior Director J.V. Magsaysay whose wife, Congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay defeated Kate Gordon to win her seat, and his father Zambales Governor Vic Magsaysay rushed down from their own Subic residence to find out what the "Intruders" were up to. They went to Kalayaan 5000 to make sure the intruders were removed from there. Colonel Jaime Calunsad, head of the SBMA LED, we hear, arrested the ex-SWAT men who were found to be in possession of two short firearms. They were released after giving statements alleging they had been sent by the office of Administrator Arreza to secure the place.

The question is: Why should Arreza use "outsiders" for a job that should have been performed by security personnel from the organic department of the SBMA, the LED? The strange "excuse" given later was that the men had been sent as "volunteers" to reserve the place for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself! By gosh. Does GMA want to "live" in Subic?

It must be said that Senior Deputy Director for Operation General Jose Calimlim was not around to witness the incident, although it’s almost certain Col. Calunsad, reported this interesting and mystifying incident to him. It’s now being alleged on television that the Magsaysays are "harassing" Arreza. Come on. About who’s going to live at Kalayaan 5000? It should be clear, the new SBMA Chairman, Feliciano Salonga.

What about Dick Gordon’s role – if any – in this matter?

The President must make crystal clear who’s running SBMA and its Freeport – so vehicle smuggling, other forms of smuggling, and all sorts of shenanigans can be resolutely halted, and punished. Two heads only create confusion and represent loopholes through which criminal syndicates and other freebooters can flourish by playing one against the other. Salonga has the experience, the Philippine Navy track record (he’s a graduate of Kings Point, New York, the non-military equivalent of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis), and was former Vice-Chairman of the BASECO, the Bataan Shipyards Engineering Company, Inc. We won’t even mention the fact that he is "Father Saigon", the dad of the famous Broadway and London West End star, Lea Salonga.

I don’t think there should be a problem about who’s running the place, except that Gordon seems to be backing his protegé Arreza that post, for that "top dog" post to use Navy parlance.

Will the next contest be who sits in the "Chairman/ Administrator’s" Office in Building 229? Fil is Chairman, while Arreza is Administrator.

Fil Salonga told me yesterday that Arreza had informed him he wasn’t personally eager to take over the residence at Kalayaan 5000 – and had (according to Fil) arranged for quarters elsewhere. But this isn’t necessarily true.

If an "uncivil war" erupts in the SBMA, let me say: I’ll back Salonga, whom we’ve known and admired for 30 years, to the hilt.


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