Olongapo City’s original town center was at Tappan Park near the iconic San Roque Chapel. From a small fishing village to a highly urbanized city which rising from the ashes of Mount Pinatubo to help give birth to the first Freeport in the Philippines. Original Olongapoñeos remember peculiar things that set the City apart from the rest of the Philippines.

Old Olongapo - Esteban Street near Cine Naval
Old Olongapo Esteban Street near Cine Naval

Its sounds so cliche but do you know the legend of Olongapo? There are two known version but the most popular is this one (http://subic.morefun.ph/ulo-ng-apo/).

Fun Fact: You cannot tell the story of Subic Bay without Olongapo

Did you know, Olongapo has a wonderful and rich history. The blue jeeps that you see? The chains around Travelers Hotel at around Subic Bay Freeport. Did you know Sams Pizza at Magsaysay drive was one of the first investors of the city? The first elected mayor’s and his teleserye like assassination?

More Fun Facts:

  • Olongapo City before was a Naval Reservation and was the last territory of the 
United States of America to be turned over to the Philippine Government at 
December 07, 1959.
  • During its time as a Naval Reservation it was ran not by politicians but by an 
American US Base Commander or Reservation Officer.
  • Violator of the Laws of Olongapo was deported back to their country. (If you break the law in Olongapo you are deported back to the Philippines which was kilometers away driving)
  • The public market was covered by screens to protect them from insects thus the cleanest public market during its Naval Reservation time.
  • One week before all saint day, all barrios were required to clean the public 
cemetery. (Still being practiced today)
  • Regular spraying of chemicals on canals and drainage systems were 
conducted by the US Military to safe guard the city from Malaria.
  • US Marines went around the communities early in the morning to tell residents 
to clean their yards.
  • All pets were registered and vaccinated with anti rabies. Bancas (boats) and 
Bicycles were included in the registration.
  • All residents were required to have ID cards and was very proud of it.
  • The worst crime during the Naval Reservation era of Olongapo was getting Drunk.
The Arsenal, entrace to the Spanish Naval Base
The entrance to the Spanish Arsenal, the iconic Spanish Gate near yellowcab and PLDT today
Old Olongapo - San Roque Chapel
Old Olongapo Chapel now known as San Roque Chapel

Why was the church there? Oh, did you know? According to our local historian Gregorio “Yang” Elane. The Original town of Olongapo was from the Spanish Gate to Kalaklan Bridge? Also the town center / Plaza was Tappan Park right near the Old Olongapo Chapel now renovated and still standing as the beloved San Roque Chapel and it survived during the Japanese bombing of Olongapo.

Olongapo was occupied by the Japanese for 3 years which was a very hard time for the people of Olongapo. When the Americans arrived at Olongapo 1945 nearing the end of World War 2 the people cheered and screamed for joy with the Americans started pushing back the remaining Japanese forces at Olongapo and their last encounter was called battle at the Zigzag Pass the road at Cabalan which lasted for a month.

On 1946, the United States of America granted the Philippines their freedom but Olongapo Remained under the US to 1959. Olongapo was part of the United States of America. The people of olongapo was the icon of discipline during that time and with the combined efforts of the US Military and the People of Olongapo maintained peace and a very good quality of living for all.

Olongapo was the icon of Discipline during its time as a Naval Reservation

Did you know? During the Naval Reservation time, you cannot enter Olongapo unless you were a confirmed resident? Oh yes it was true! It like you need a Visa to enter the town. The Checkpoints are found on Tipo on the South and at Baloy near Matain at the north.

Before 1959, a political tension was brewing between the Philippine Government and the US Military. A Manila Journalist tried to go in olongapo and he wasnʼt allowed since he doesnʼt have an ID card. That journalist started writing about his experience and added more fire to the political tension between the US and the Philippines. Around this time, the people of Olongapo doesn’t want to be handed over to the Philippine government due to the fact that the disiciple and the standard of living during that time was the Best in the Country even compared to Manila.

December 07, 1959 – Olongapo City was handed over to the Philippine Government. Did you know? The worst crime at Olongapo during the Naval Reservation was getting drunk. Also if the Olongapo City wasn’t handed over to the Philippine government on 1959 the Bartholomew Master Plan was suppose to be completed and the roads network of Olongapo was designed by the Americans and majority of the streets still bear its original name. (Please do justice on its pronunciation of your street names)

Old Olongapo before it changed
Old Olongapo before the drastic relocation of Barangays to what we know today.

During the Vietnam and Korean War, due to the exigency of operations. The Naval base expanded and pushed the Olongapo to what we know today. Ever wonder why some Barangays were called “New”? Examples are, New Banicain, New Ilalim, New Kalalake, New Kababae and created a drainage channel that very same “river” that divides Ayala Harbor Point and SM Mall respectively.

Did you Know? The Lagoon was Plateau where the original barangay of Kalalake and right next to it barangay Kababae they call it the Twin Plateau (Magkapatid na Talampas). The rocks was later used to be a water breaker for the Cubi Airport.

For the Students Studying at Olongapo City National High School – stand tall and be proud. Our school was called Jackson Highschool for a very proud reason. The school was founded by the Americans and was the pool of talent for the US Apprentice program. If you studied at Jackson, you were given a change to join the US Apprentice ship program to work at the base. How proud was it? Well if you’re courting a beautiful young lady and you’re a US Navy, might as well give up buddy and the girl’s family would hands down choose a US Apprentice at Subic Bay than a US Navy.

After the turn over of Olongapo at December 07, 1959 to the Philippine government, Mr. Ruben Geronimo became the first appointed Mayor by Governor Barretto and Ildefonso Ariola succeeded him a year after.

The First Elected City Mayor
The First Elected City Mayor – James L. Gordon Sr.

The first local election was held at Olongapo on 1963 and James L. Gordon was the first elected City Mayor. He re-implemented the original Naval Reservation Laws and Discipline. Due to his ideals and implementation, he stirred up people with personal vested interest from illegal loggers and organized crime that was then very rampant around Olongapo.

Did you know? Like a Teleserye, the first Elected Mayor of Olongapo City has serveral attempts on his life?

on July 04, 1965, he was lured out of his house by a false report on a fire. On the way back home a grenade was thrown at his car. He survived this first attempt.

on August 04, 1965, several prisoners were allowed to escape from the municipal jail of Subic, Zambales. Again, a fire was made as a ruse to make Gordon appear. Three grenades were thrown at the crowd, wounding one US Navy officer who was with the team that helped to control the blaze. Again, James Gordon survived the attempt. The third try was again linked to a fire.

The Gordon residence in Quezon City mysteriously burned down on November 01, 1965. The family later learned that an ambush had been prepared at the Zig-Zag pass although he went through this third attempt unscathed.

Mayor rushed to the USS Repose.
Mayour James L. Gordon Sr. rushed to the USS Repose – Medical Ship after the assassination.

On February 20, 1967, while talking with a constituent on the first floor of city hall, he was gunned down by Nonito Alincastre, an escaped inmate of the National Penitentiary. He was immediately brought to the USS Repose, a US Navy hospital ship, but he could not be saved because of his massive head injuries.

The gun man was suppose to be killed right after the assassination by his contractors but due to the chaos of the moment he wasnʼt able to follow the plan and was later apprehended by the combined efforts of the police and residents of East Bajac-Bajac.

The city like the legend instead of being afraid was united and emulated the passion of their beloved leader.
The city like the legend instead of being afraid was united and emulated the passion of their beloved leader.

During Martial Law from 1972 to 1979, no elections were held. The peace and order was put in peril, and the peopleʼs right to determine their leaders was suspended.

What we need is not a change of men, but a change in men!

Young Mayor Richard Gordon
Richard “Dick” Gordon Taking oath as Olongapo City Mayor on 1980.

On 1980, Richard “Dick” Gordon was elected city mayor of Olongapo City and embarked on a rapid development of Olongapo starting with the restoration of peace and order. The Olongapo Garbage management system was top of its class during his time. Residents where given strict instructions not to put their garbage outside their houses until the day of collection so that street animals wonʼt disperse the garbage or else they will be fined. He was also responsible for the Color coding of the jeeps which was copied across the Philippines later on.

More Fun Fact: Did you know? It was Mayor Richard Gordon who implemented the Color Coding of Jeepneys during the 1980s.

The reasoning behind the color coding of jeepneys is actually for peace and order. Not only did it work to battle colorums but also gave iconic routes for the jeeps to follow. Blue for Barrio Barreto since its near the sea. Brown for the Cabalan Mountains, Yellow for drunk americans to see and go back to the US base regardless of their predicament. White Jeeps for Gordon Heights and red jeeps Mabayuan.

Fun Fact 2017: Lately I heard this around Olongapo City regarding Jeepneys: RED Bilis, Yellow Hinto, Brown Bagal, Blue Sikip.

Big body numbers were also implemented on public vehicles in order to prevent them to be a utility to any crime. The eyes and ears of Mayor Richard Gordon was the street vendors who even before the time of the cellphone quickly reported to him activities and crimes across the city very efficiently.

People reacted negatively to the change like jeepney franchisers and the public to the payment on garbage collection but later on saw the beauty and logic to the change. Even later on politicians tried to remove the implemented changes especially on garbage just to gain the public vote but learned the hard way that it is very essential for the operation to the city.

Olongapoʼs development was put on hold during the “EDSA Revolution” of 1986. A Revolutionary Form of Government was established by Corazon C. Aquino as President. Almost all incumbent officials were removed from office starting from the barangay level. Dick Gordon was not spared. Officer-In-Charge were appointed in their place.

Olongapoʼs development was put on hold during the “EDSA Revolution” of 1986. A Revolutionary Form of Government was established by Corazon C. Aquino as President. Almost all incumbent officials were removed from office starting from the barangay level. Dick Gordon was not spared. Officer-In-Charge were appointed in their place.

Another local election was held 1988 and the young Dick Gordon was put back into office but on June of 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted covering the city volcanic ash and debris, while public utilities like electricity, water and communications where also in ruins.

Around September of 1991, the Philippine Senate ended the tenure of all US Military Bases across the country which lead to the eventual pull our of the US Navy from Subic Bay.

This was a devastating time for Olongapo City, not only they have to deal with the damages of the volcano erupting but also the pull out of their major economic source the US Military. Not only did it cripple the hopes of the residents of Olongapo but the lives of its future generation as well.

Olongapo refusing to give up!
Olongapo Lobbying at Manila requesting to the Philippine Government to hand over the Subic Naval Base to care of the people of Olongapo.

More Fun Fact: Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority was from an original plan from the then Mayor Richard Gordon with the help of the people of Olongapo and soon to be former employees of the US Naval base refusing to give up! The plan was called Authonomous Region of Greater Olongapo (Argo).

The Concept of the First Freeport in the Philippines
Olongapo fighting to start the first freeport in the Philippines – Subic Bay.

Dick Gordon after seeing what happened to Clark Air Base after the people looted the base gathered the Olongapo residents and former base employees to help him start and build their lives again by founding the Autonomous Region of Greater Olongapo (ARGO). He also encouraged the people to volunteer to protect and preserve the soon to be former Subic Naval base to prosper in the future.

The people of Olongapo expressed through rallies plea to President Cory Aquino to let the people of Olongapo administer of the former US Naval base. This was granted by the President and she appointed Mayor Richard Gordon as the Chairman and Administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. SBMA was originally ARGO.

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