Subic Bay History

Posted 5 years ago

Subic Bay’s unique past, as is her present, was anchored on her impressive geography. This one-of-a kind bay is so generously endowed with naturally deep waters and is surrounded by mountain ranges, which make it a strategic sheltered harbor – attributes that proved to be irresistible to naval powers who know how advantageous Subic Bay could be to their desired military posturing, and indeed they made significant impact on the wars and conflicts that ravaged the region through hundreds of year.

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Earliest settlers

Posted 5 years ago

The Aetas were Subic Bay’s earliest settlers. They were believed to have arrived from the northern part of the Philippines and were the first inhabitants of the Subic Bay area long before the first of the Spanish colonizers arrived.

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The legend of Olongapo

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Legends and folk tales abound in most towns in the Philippines and Olongapo is no different. There are a number of stories of how the city got its name.

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Origin of the name

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Earlier historians say the name “Subic” has evolved over time, influenced by the different populations that have settled in the area.

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Discovery of the bay

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Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo is credited with the discovery of Subic Bay. In 1542, this grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi-- the Spanish explorer who established Spain’s control and dominion over the Philippines --recognized Subic Bay’s tremendous potential as a fine shelter for shipping during a visit to the province of Zambales to establish the Spanish crown.

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A blend of a colorful legend and stories of greatness, Olongapo, situated at the sound end of Zambales, was once a barrio, turned into a municipality, then into a city, and now called a “Highly Urbanized City”. Envisioned to be the First Freeport City in the country, the pursuit to make this dream into a reality continues…this essence of the city’s greatness, a city which was at one time headed by a leader named APO.

Early men left marks to depict their way of living. These symbols were discovered written in the walls of their cave dwellings and some used animal skin and other forms of medium to record information.

As time went by, the quest for knowledge and history was passed from one generation to another, this resulted to the accumulation of vast amount of information and artifacts that needed to be protected. This led to the establishment of museums by pioneering countries to house these treasures.

The City of Olongapo, in its aim to preserve its history established the City Museum on June 27, 2004, initiated by Senator Richard J. Gordon, who was then the Secretary of the Department of Tourism.

According to history, the “Negritoes” or “Aetas” were the inhabitants of the land who built their dwellings in the forest.

On the other hand, according to legends, a group of people of Malayan descent first populated Olongapo headed by a leader called APO. Olongapo then was a small fishing community.

It was told that one day their leader APO went missing. His headless body was eventually found in the seaside. After several days of searching, a boy saw the Apo’s head or the “Ulo ng Apo” hanging on a bamboo tree. He took and brought the ‘ulo ng apo’ to their village while shouting “ulo ng apo, ulo ng apo.” These words, told over and over, were eventually joined to form Olongapo.

The Spaniards that time were looking for an ideal place to moor their ships since their main port at Cavite was inadequate to protect their ships during war. During their search, the Spaniards discovered Subic Bay in Olongapo which they found ideal for the establishment of a naval base.

This was immediately recommended to the King of Spain, and in 1885 the king issued a decree allowing the establishment of a naval base in Olongapo.

In 1898, the Philippine revolution against Spanish rule started and came to the knowledge of the Americans, who were at that time at war with Spain.

President William McKinley of the United States of America directed Commodore George Dewey, the head of the U.S. Forces in Asia, to destroy the Spanish Force at Manila Bay headed by Admiral Patricio Montojo. From Hong Kong Commodore Dewey sailed to Manila Bay.

In no time, the American Forces defeated the Spaniards at Manila Bay with their more advance military arsenal and far better experience in war tactic. That the same year, the Treaty of Paris was signed. The Spaniards asked for 20 million dollars to relinquish their rights in governing the Philippine Islands to the Americans.

The American government thereafter began to look for an ideal place to organize their naval forces. They needed a natural deep harbor to repair their warships and to establish a naval base. They chose Subic Bay in Olongapo, which according to them is unmatched in the whole archipelago.

Since then, due to the establishment of the U.S. naval base, the population of Olongapo increased. In April 12, 1912, Governor General Cameron Forbes ordered the declaration of Olongapo as a barrio of Subic, Zambales.

Despite being a barrio of the Municipality of Subic, Zambales, Olongapo was governed as a military reservation under the American Government. Successive periods of development marked the presence of the Americans, including the building of schools and markets, the installation of telephone lines, water system and electricity, and the provision for all the needs of the residents. The living conditions were good particularly on areas of peace and order. When the Pacific War began with the bombing of the Pearl Harbor in 1941 by the Japanese, Olongapo and the Navy yard at Subic Bay suffered successive strikes from the Japanese. The U.S. Navy was totally helpless at that time, and the entire Philippines, including Olongapo, fell under the oppressive Japanese occupation.

A great number of Olongapo residents flee and went into hiding in nearby provinces and mountains. Brave guerillas stayed and mounted attacks against the Japanese. Olongapo suffered from Japanese cruelty for more than three (3) years, many died of hunger and illness. In 1945, news of the return of the Americans raised the hopes of the people.

Those who left and went to the mountains came back to Olongapo. The people rejoiced when the U.S. Naval ships arrived, while the Japanese Army hastily retreated toward the Zigzag Pass, the mountainous area between Olongapo and Bataan. This was where the joint Filipino

Guerillas and the U.S. Army forces defeated the Japanese Army they waged a last furious battle at the Zigzag Pass.

After the war, although the rest of the Philippine archipelago was turned over to the Filipinos, Olongapo remained under the administration of the Americans.

Because of the war, damaged infrastructures such as schools and markets were rebuilt, as well as the water system and electricity. Peace and order and cleanliness were restored. However, despite the good life, political turmoil remained. This led to the decision agreed upon by the Philippines and U.S. Government on December 7, 1959, to relinquish the town of Olongapo to the Philippine Government.

After the turnover, Ruben Geronimo became the first appointed Mayor and Ildefonso Ariola succeeded him a year after.

It was not long when the first local election was held. James L. Gordon was the first elected Mayor, along with his team as the first elected city officials.

James L. Gordon, together with his team, led the movement for city status. In the second year of his administration, Olongapo became a city. This meant that Olongapo was no longer required to give certain percentage of its revenue to the province of Zambales.

With Its city status and the job opportunities created by the expansion of the U.S. Naval Base, people from all over the Philippines flocked to Olongapo. These made the job of James L. Gordon as Mayor tougher.

True to his promises, James L. Gordon was a dedicated Mayor to his constituents. However, some of his decisions did not please some unscrupulous individuals. Several attempts to end his life ensued. Gordon was murdered on February 20, 1967, in front of the city hall. The assassin was a criminal freed from prison to undertake the gruesome murder. The entire population of Olongapo grieved the tragic loss, the news of the assassination dominated the headlines of most major newspaper of the country. Vice-Mayor Jaime Guevarra took over as a Mayor. He was succeeded nine months after by Amelia J. Gordon upon winning the election.

In 1968, Amelia J. Gordon, as part of her destiny, took her oath of office as the first woman to be elected as City Mayor. She carried on the dreams and programs started by James L. Gordon. Even in her short stint as Mayor, Amelia J. Gordon had numerous accomplishments for Olongapo. One of which is the very first “Master Plan” of the city.

Dr. Geronimo Lipumano, also a native of Olongapo and a former Hospital Director, was elected Mayor in 1972. However, the tenure of office of the local officials did not last long with the declaration of “Martial Law” by President Ferdinand E. Marcos that placed the entire nation under Military Rule.

In the Martial Law years, from 1972 to 1979, no elections were held. The peace and order was put in peril, and the people’s right to determine their leaders was suspended.

The hopes and spirits of the people of Olongapo were lifted anew with the proclamation with the proclamation by the national government that there will be an election in 1979.

In the election, one name surfaced…Richard J. Gordon, who was elected Mayor, the new leader of Olongapo. With the trust and confidence given by the people, Richard J. Gordon a.k.a. Dick Gordon embarked on a rapid development of Olongapo starting with the restoration of peace and order. Under his leadership, the city became prominent through the various programs he initiated, which includes the ‘Color Coding Scheme’ of public utility transport; the remarkable Solid Waste Management System; and various programs for tourism.

The rapid phase of development was again put on hold brought about by the ‘Edsa Revolution’ of 1986 that ended the rule of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. 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. Officers-in-Charge were appointed in their place.

Another local election was held eventually, and Dick Gordon was voted back into office in 1988.Various programs and projects were in progress when the unexpected eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991 occurred which buried the city under volcanic ash and debris, cut-out telephone, water and electric power systems, and the city infrastructure were in ruins.

In September 1991, the Philippine Senate ended the tenure of all U.S. Military Bases in the country which led to the eventual pull-out of the U.S. Navy from Subic Bay.

The people of Olongapo and Clark Air Base in Pampanga faced bigger problems due to the pull-out.

Dick Gordon, in his initiative, gathered the Olongapo residents and encouraged them to be volunteers in the protection and preservation of the propertied left behind by the Americans at the former U.S. Naval Base, and to help maintain its order cleanliness.

The people of Olongapo expressed through rallies their plea to President Cory Aquino to let the administration of the former U.S. Naval Base be handled by the people of Olongapo. This was granted by the President, and she appointed the then Mayor Dick Gordon to be the Chairman and Administrator of the Subic bay Metropolitan Authority or SBMA.

SBMA Chairman Dick Gordon went abroad numerous times to entice foreign investors in Subic Bay and to create job opportunities for the people of Olongapo, while the gallant volunteers ensured and the upkeep of Subic Bay.

In no time, investors and locators came to Subic Bay and brought billions of investments in various ventures. Hundreds of volunteers found employment. The former U.S. Naval Base once again became a busy place with the establishment of industrial zones, duty free shops and various businesses. Several heads of State already visited Subic Bay Freeport especially when it became the venue for the “Asian Summit” held in 1995. Investments in the City of Olongapo increased as well.

Olongapo continues its partnership with Subic Bay Freeport to attain full development, continues looking forward to a brighter future, continues fighting for excellence…such is the essence of the city’s greatness!