Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Losses for Clark, Subic seen due to Balikatan cancellation

The cancellation of next February’s RP-US Balikatan military exercises will cause "minimal to significant losses" to the economies of Clark, Subic Bay Freeport, and the cities of Angeles and Olongapo.

Philippine officials, in separate assessments on Tuesday, said around 5,000 US troops are known to participate in the annual Balikatan exercises. These troops are sent not only to those areas in Central Luzon but also to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Sangley Point in Cavite, Palawan and Sulu, where they avail themselves of various services either directly or through US military contractors.

Levy Laus, president and chief executive officer of the Clark Development Corp. (CDC), estimated a 15-percent decline in the income of tourism-related businesses in this economic zone.

Laus could not immediately cite in peso terms the foregone income, but sources in the business community said Holiday Inn alone stands to lose reservations for 60 rooms as a result of the cancellation of the 15-day training. Daily rates for rooms fetch more than P4,000 and villas go for about P10,000.

Montevista and Fontana are also known to rent out their rooms and villas to US troops.

While landing fees for US military aircraft are waived at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, the CDC was going to see down the drain its share of royalties from the fuel contractor Lubewell, said Victor Jose Luciano, Clark International Airport Corp. president.

Some 20 restaurants, 15 duty-free stores and about 100 traders of souvenir items are also going to feel the pinch.

Capt. Burrell Parmer, US Marines spokesperson, had said every soldier spends an average of $50 (P2,469) daily on food and drinks.

"The impact will be significant," Luciano told the Inquirer.

"It is unfortunate that the Balikatan will be suspended," Laus said.

Angeles City, which is outside Clark, will bear "very minimal and insignificant losses" from the war games suspension, Mayor Carmelo Lazatin said. That is because only between 25 and 50 servicemen go "off base" nightly.

"Most of them stay inside Clark," Lazatin said, pointing out that the 5,000 tourists who flock to the city daily are mostly Europeans and Asians.

But on Fields Avenue, the city's red light district, a bar owner said Lazatin could be underestimating the consequences.

"The girls won't get customers," the bar owner said, referring to the practice by "rest and recreation" contractors of transporting sex workers in vans, taking them to where the servicemen stay in Clark.

Quite many though, traveling in groups of five and secured by the local police and military, are known to prefer savoring local cuisine in restaurants declared "relatively safe" from terror threats."

Feliciano Salonga, chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, said the tourism sector at the free port would likely feel the brunt.

"Just on one day, we calculated their expenditures at between P2 million and P3 million on food, souvenir items and hotel use," Salonga said.

That was enough compensation for the docking fees waived on US war ships that come to Subic's Alava Pier, he said. "Malaki ang mawawala (The losses will be big)," he added.

Alma Bulawan, executive director of the women's group Buklod in Olongapo City, welcomed the suspension, saying it would spare bar workers in the city from sexual exploitation.

Van driver Alex said around 100 like him stand not to get transport contracts in February. The US military hires van for P1,800 a day, he said.

Olongapo City Mayor James Gordon Jr. said the economic losses would be great. He said in the Balikatan exercise last year when US personnel were first allowed to spend liberty or rest and recreation in the city, they spent P3 million in a day alone. He said each soldier spent an average of $30 (P1,481).

In Fort Magsaysay, military commanders said about 30 stores and 50 souvenir vendors expect a slump in sales.

The cancellation of the exercises was prompted by a custody dispute between US and Philippines authorities over a US Marine convicted of raping a Filipina
By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer


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