Monday, September 07, 1998

Standoff at Subic

A standoff over control of the Subic free port in the Philippines has ended after nine weeks, but the incident marred the start of President Joseph Estrada's administration. Estrada succeeded in ousting Richard Gordon as director of the free port, which was established on the premises of a former U.S. naval base.

Gordon accepted defeat and agreed to relinquish control after the Supreme Court rejected his petition to prevent Estrada from forcing him out. More than 100 people were injured last month when troops stormed the Subic administration building, which Gordon's supporters had seized.

Gordon was mayor of the adjacent city of Olongapo when the United States vacated the naval base in 1992 as a result of the Philippine Senate's refusal to renew an agreement on use of the base. Gordon had wanted the Navy to stay because the base was the main prop of the local economy. Estrada, then a senator, opposed extension of the bases agreement.

Gordon subsequently led a successful effort to convert the base into an industrial zone and free port and to attract foreign investors to the facility. It has become one of the brightest spots in the Philippine economy.

But Gordon was an opponent of Estrada, and the newly elected president decided to replace Gordon with his own appointee. Gordon is widely recognized as the key figure in the success of the Subic free port and his removal for political reasons could discourage investors. The burden of proof is now on Estrada to demonstrate that what looks like politics as usual isn't quite as bad as it seems