Japan To Redevelop Former US Navy Base In The Philippines
Jan 13, 2020

Japan will create the master plan to redevelop a former US naval base in Subic Bay in the northern Philippines, the country’s finance secretary Carlos Dominguez said after his meeting with Japanese foreign affairs minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Manila on January 9.

The Subic Bay base, once the largest American naval base outside the US, will be developed through a master plan crafted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The agency signed the agreement in December to provide technical support for the Philippine government’s push to revive Subic Bay in Zambales province, with logistics terminals, public utilities and road networks as an infrastructural backbone to grow the local economy and establish knowledge-based industries. The master plan also includes potential projects on disaster risk management.

The history of military bases in Subic Bay goes back to the Spanish period in the Philippines. In 1885, the Spanish Navy built a port at the location in Olongapo which later played an important strategic role in the US-Spanish war in 1898 (Battle of Manila Bay), in the subsequent Philippines-American war in 1899 when the port was taken over by the US Army and expanded into a military base, in World War I as a maintenance facility for the US Navy, in World war II when the base became a battleground between the US and Japanese armies, while Subic Bay reached its peak activity as an overhaul and repair base during the Vietnam War.

Volcano eruption ended Subic Bay’s era as naval station

After the Vietnam War, Subic Bay served as s reception center for South Vietnamese refugees, and later on as a naval station for exercises and patrols for the US Navy in the South China Sea with the changed role of the Americans from landlord to guest. Things went on until 1991 when the volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted and completely covered the base which had to be evacuated. Although it was partly restored, the US army left the base at the end of 1991 after which it was closed and had to undergo a huge clean-up because soil and water was contaminated with lead, asbestos, chemicals, pesticides and possibly even nuclear waste from submarines.

In 1992, the naval base was converted into the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone. Only in 2015, the US Navy began partly re-using the base in Subic Bay to deliver materiel and personnel for annual joint military exercises and as a resupply port during routine calls.

The Japanese master plan now aims at turning the former base into a flourishing industrial zone to bring fresh impulses to the local economy, similar to nearby Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone north of Angeles, which was also a former US army base.

China has similarly been lured to the area, financing a $987-million, 71-kilometer freight rail connecting Subic Bay to Clark Freeport. Chinese investors were also interested to take over Hanjin Heavy Industries Construction’s facilities, a South Korean shipbuilding company located adjacent to Subic Bay.