Monday, November 17, 2003

Palace exec says SBMA can implement port plan

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT -- Presidential Assistant for North Luzon Renato Diaz said the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority has the right under the law to start implementing its port modernization program amid the opposition raised by Olongapo City officials.

This was contained in a memorandum Diaz submitted to Malacañang on Nov. 11. The memorandum cited provisions of Republic Act 7227 or the base conversion law that created the SBMA to transform the former Subic Naval Base into an industrial zone.

"In case of conflict between the SBMA and the local government units concerned on matters affecting the Subic Special Economic Zone (other than defense and security), the decision of the SBMA shall prevail," Diaz, quoting Section 14(b) of RA 7227, said.

He said the SBMA has an autonomous power to operate, administer and manage the freeport as a "self-sustaining, industrial, commercial, financial and investment center."

The conflict over the port project has adversely affected the establishment of the proposed Subic-Clark Alliance for Development (Scad) that is expected to spur the development of an agro-industrial and tourism corridor in Central Luzon, Diaz said.

Earlier, Governors Vicente Magsaysay (Zambales), Leonardo Roman (Bataan), Manuel Lapid (Pampanga), Tomas Joson III (Nueva Ecija) and Jose Yap (Tarlac) endorsed the SBMA's port project plan.

Olongapo City Mayor Katherine Gordon and other Olongapo officials, however, are opposing the project, citing environmental concerns, livelihood loss for fishermen, coral reef destruction and water pollution that the project would bring about.

Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development (Cord) in Central Luzon, is also opposing the project.

He questioned the plan of SBMA to borrow 157 million dollars (about 8.5 billion pesos) to develop a new port.

While saying that he was fully supporting the modernization of the Subic Port, Gordon, former SBMA chairman, said he was questioning the feasibility of the SBMA plan in view of the government program to pursue privatization.

He said several groups have expressed concern over the possibility of severe damage to the fragile marine ecosystems in the Cubi Point area once the port is built.

Gordon said there was no need to reclaim 39 hectares in Cubi Point to build a new port because the existing facilities at Subic Bay were already adequate.

Saturday, August 09, 2003


By Igan D’bayan (STAR) We all know how crummy city life is. You could just imagine people trudging to work with heavy feet and empty eyes just like in the opening scene of Joe Versus the Volcano. There are a thousand cars during rush hour vying for one inch of road space, defying physics in the process. There are a thousand commuters inside an LRT coach designed for – what? – 30 people, defying physics yet again. There are floods that would make any person hearing Noah inside his head start whipping out hammer, nails and wood and fashioning an ark just to get to work or go home. There are a thousand hassles waiting for each inhabitant – muggers, mulcting cops, and other domestic monsters. It is hot as hell. It rains angels and devils (you never know who you’ll meet in sidestreets and alleyways). It is not a happy place to be in, what with garbage, mediocre movies and other malevolent assaults to the senses. The city has become an agoraphobic’s Fear Factor challenge. One’s best bet is to pack for the weekend and head somewhere that is the antithesis of the city.

Well, it’s hard to believe that all it takes is a two- to three-hour trip from Manila (depending on that bitch called traffic at the North Expressway) to reach a unique utopia in Olongapo. The Subic Bay Freeport Zone is a business-and-leisure utopia to one of its architects (Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chairman Felicito Payumo) and a person who believes in the man’s vision (Subic International Hotel president Alejandra Clemente). To both of them, Subic offers a good excuse to do a Nancy Sinatra or a Run-DMC/Aerosmith away from Metro Manila.

"People are looking for an excuse to get out of the city," says Payumo. "And we are offering a place for city folks that has everything."

According to the chairman, the Freeport Zone is a self-contained community with an orderly galaxy of business centers, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and whatnots. Security is topnotch since there is a 911 emergency dialing system, which is networked to police, fire and medical teams. Also, nature made its own set of attractions by way of mangroves, beaches, coral reefs, and forests), while man-made ones include golf ranges, extreme sport centers, go-kart courses, auto racetracks, theme parks and bowling alleys. But wait – to steal a line from the infomercial lady – there’s more.

"You know, Subic is known for its eco-tourism – with attractions like jungle survival trips, bird-watching, and forest hiking," Payumo shares. "The Ocean Adventure, while offering visitors a glimpse of beautiful aquatic creatures, wants to impart the message of conservation."

The chairman is spearheading the establishment of an aviary, a butterfly garden, a zoo, and an insectarium – and Payumo is putting them up bayanihan style.

"I’ve talked to the Philippine Avian Society, and the members have agreed to put their pet birds on display, so that people will get to appreciate these exotic creatures," says the chairman. "Robert Yupangco has around 30 tigers spread out all over the country – in Kalatagan, Tagaytay and somewhere in Mindanao. I’m giving him a place where he can put his animals, and at the same time serve as an attraction to tourists."

For the butterfly garden, the chairman has approached Jun Simon and his French business partner. The same approach with the botanical garden – it is a "we’re-all-in-this-together" thing, so, as to attract more tourists. Payumo is confident that there will be an influx of tourists once these attractions are set in place, and once the Subic International Hotel Convention & Exhibition Center is completed. If You Build It, They Will Come

Payumo calls Subic International Hotel’s convention center the main component of its tourism program, adding that Subic has long been ripe for the M.I.C.E. market. Before you start picturing the Pied Piper dragging along a phalanx of field mice on the roads of Lubao or Guagua, rest assured that the chairman is talking about M.I.C.E., which stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibits.

"The convention center will be good for the other hotels and establishments," the chairman says. "These things reinforce each other. Therefore, all the elements, all the ingredients will be in place for Subic to achieve a banner year in terms of tourism."

Subic International Hotel president Alejandra Clemente agrees.

"We want to complete this project by December," she says. "We’ll be eyeing four major markets – China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. We’re also looking at hosting Asia-Pacific regional conventions. And the convention center will be multi-purpose as well, pang-entertainment din siya. The chairman also wants us to bring in the Cirque du Soleil."

Clemente adds that she is inspired by the headway made by Chairman Payumo in making the Subic Bay Freeport Zone an accessible utopia. "We believe in his vision," she says. "There’s so much potential in the Subic Bay Free Port, considering all the infrastructures that are being put in place – like widening of the roads, and the construction of the highway connecting Clark and Subic. This is what you get when the public and private sector work hand in hand."

The convention center is one of the latest projects of the Subic International Hotel, which is reportedly pouring in P300 million for infrastructure initiatives. The Subic International Hotel is one the most popular hotels in the area. Three buildings – Alpha, Delta and Bravo – house 300 deluxe rooms and suites. Also, a slew of restaurants and bars – Seafront Restaurant, Café Subic, Subic Fiesta, Captain’s Lounge, The Terrace Café and the Golden Tea House – offer guests gustatory delights. Putting up a convention center, for Clemente, is key in attracting more tourists.

"This is to attract international markets more," she explains. "There has been tremendous interest for sentimental visits to Subic Bay."

Chairman Payumo nods in agreement. "This is one of the reasons we put up the Subic Naval Museum, which houses memorabilia and mementos of what Subic was before, during and after the American period. Subic has a very rich history. Since the convention center will be a stone’s throw away from the naval museum, the art center, as well the recreational centers, it will be a significant aspect of the Subic community."

The chairman adds that there has been a steady increase of tourists in Subic. "After 9/11 and the SARS epidemic, we have started promoting domestic tourism, which are buoying up our tourism industry. It is important to provide for them an alternative place to visit. Last year we had 7.9 million tourists. When I came here in ’98, we had 2.3 million."

Clemente attests to this. "The potential is here. The developments are in place. I believe that tourism in Subic will flourish even more."

Friday, August 08, 2003

Pinatubo evacuees return home

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga - Like the "exiled" Jews who have returned to their homeland, Israel, thousands of Pampanga Pinatubo victims have also started returning home to their native Bacolor town.

Bacolor was the hardest hit by lahar flows among all the towns in Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, with all almost of its villages buried by tons of volcanic debris that flowed through the Pasig-Potrero River system from the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo which erupted in 1991.

Many of the evacuees have opted to return to their lahar-laden barangays due to lack of resettlement sites where they are supposed to be permanently relocated. For years these evacuees have been living in the evacuation centers provided for them by the Mt. Pinatubo Commission (MPC) and other government institutions.

Headed by Art Sampang as its executive director, the MPC was created in 1992 by Congress to alleviate the socio-economic well-being of the tens of thousands victims of Pinatubo-related calamities.

However, not only the evacuees have returned home.

Hundreds of Bacolor families that were already resettled have also been returning home, this time due to the lack of means of livelihood supposed to be provided by them also by the MPC.

MPC report said it has already established at least 23 resettlement sites for the victims of Pinatubo-related disasters in Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales.

Livelihood projects were also put up in some of these resettlement sites. But these were found not enough to accomodate thousands of jobless Pinatubo victims.

Sampang, who acknowledge the fact that there indeed thousands of Bacolor evacuees have come back to their town, said, "Those returning home to their still lahar-buried villages are still hoping they would be able to get housing which we are now constructing for them."

To date, Sampang said there are still about 8,000 families living in the evacuation centers, mostly in Pampanga.

The additional housing projects were initiated by President Estrada when he launched ERAPS 2000 in Malacanang last August. ERAPS means Encouraging Renewed Assistance from Private Sector.

Shortly after the launching, some private individuals or groups immediately pledged to donate either cash or housing units for the evacuees.

At Clark Field, several locators at the Clark Special Economic Zone likewise responded to the appeal of Clark Development Corp. (CDC) president Rufo Colayco for help. Cash pledges from them have already reached P4 million even as others promised construction materials and housing units.

Earlier, Rep. Zenaida Ducut, (Lamp, 2nd District, Pampanga), said the Mt. Pinatubo evacuees who wish to return to their villages would be provided with financial help and construction materials.

Ducut said the assistance is being provided to the evacuees under the "Balik Barangay" program of the government.

The cash assistance will reportedly come from shares of their barangays from the quarry fees allocated by the Natural Resources Devleopment Corp. (NRDC). A government-owned corporation, NDRC has taken over from the Pampanga provincial government the collection of quarry fees from sand truckers.

The takeover of the collection by the NRDC was prompted by reports of alleged irregularities committed by some provincial officials, led by Gov. Lito Lapid, in the quarry operations.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it is also granting about P2,000 to every family displaced by the Pinatubo calamities who have returned to their villages. Flor Villar, DSWD regional director, however, said that the victims could only get the cash assistance after they secured certificates from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) that their barangays are now safe from future lahar flows.

The DSWD is extending the cash assistance also under "Balik-Barangay Program," Villar said

Saturday, June 07, 2003


Perkaise, PA - A Filipina, Amelia J. Gordon will be honored with the 2002 Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI) Women of the Year Award for her life-long dedication to the children and adoption on Pearl S. Buck International Day, Saturday - 14 June 2003 at the Pearl S. Buck Historic Site in 520 Dublin Rd., Perkaise, Pennsylvania.

"Mrs. Gordon is the former Mayor and Assemblywoman of Olongapo City in the Philippines, who legally adopted 54 children and changed the lives of thousand more as the founder of the Boys Town and Girls Home, which provides shelter and opportunity for orphaned Filipino children of American descent in Olongapo City. A delegation from the Philippines will be attending the event, including two of Amelia's sons, Congressman James Gordon Jr., who represents the 1st District of Zambales province, and Richard J. Gordon who serves in the President's Cabinet as Secretary of Tourism." said PSBI Board Member Ernesto Gange.

Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI) is a non-sectarian development and humanitarian assistance organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and expanding opportunities for educational, social, economic and civil rights. From its home office in Pennsylvania, PSBI supports program in many countries worldwide, with a particular emphasis on program in Asia.

PSBI was founded by Nobel and Pulitzer prize winning author Pearl S. Buck, the first woman to be awarded both prizes. Upon her return to the United States after forty years in China, Ms. Buck became an activist. Through her activism, she received a certificate of life membership from the NAACP as well as becoming an active trustee of Howard University. She was instrumental in the fight to gain citizenship for Chinese Americans and was a supporter of the first human rights initiative affecting the status of biracial children in many countries. She dedicated her energy and resource to promoting Tolerance, human rights and inter-cultural understanding and fighting the impact which discrimination, prejudice and bigotry can have, particularly on the lives of the children.

"Mrs. Gordon bested other nominees that included Barbara Bush and Laura Bush, mother And wife respectively of President George W. Bush; Dana Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney, Mary Robinson of the United Nations, primarily because of her life-long work for the cause of the abandoned Amerasian children that closely compares with the dedication and sacrifice of Pearl S. Buck." said Gange.

Previous PSBI Woman of the Year awardees includes actress Audrey Hepburn, former First Lady and now Senator Hillary Clinton and former Philippines President Corazon Aquino

Pearl S. Buck Woman of the Year
(A Family and Personal Profile)

- Amelia Juico-Gordon or Mama as she is fondly called was born on 4 September 1920 in Subic in the province of Zambales.
- Parents were Juan Gonzales Juico, Presidente ("Mayor") of Subic during the American government (1917-1919) and Ma. Espiritu Nepumoceno Juico.
- While in high school she met James Gordon, Sr., the son of John Jacob Gordon of Kingston, New York an American serviceman who arrived with the American forces under Admiral George Dewey and later settled in Barrio Olongapo with Veronica Tagle, the daughter of Capt. Jose Tagle of Imus, Cavite and known hero of the Philippine Revolution.
- In 1952 James Gordon became Deputy Governor of Zambales and in 1959 fought for the independence of Olongapo from the United States being a military reservation. He was elected as its first Mayor in 1963 and in 1966 when Olongapo became a City became its first City Mayor. Due to his unrelenting stance against crime, lawlessness and corruption, he was assassinated in 1967 after three attempts on his life.
- Amelia Gordon took on the cudgels of the City and instituted its first Masterplan. Later on in 1984, she ran and won as Assemblywoman in the Batasan Pambansa.
- Her achievements in politics pale in comparison to her civic accomplishments. In the late 1950s she started by adopting 3 infants and over the years more than a thousand children were looking up to Amelia as their foster mother. This led to the founding of the Olongapo Civic Action Group(OCAG) under who's supervision was placed the "Boys Town" and "Girls Home" that served as foster home to Olongapo's impoverished, unwanted and abandoned babies. Many of these were fathered by US servicemen and forsaken by their mothers. Some where deformed babies left right at the doorstep of the Gordon's house. Others where foundlings - children whose parents driven by poverty simply abandoned them in the streets and alleys of Olongapo. Regardless of their origins and backgrounds, Amelia took them all.
- Not only did she become foster mother to these children, she personally adopted 54 abandoned children. She likewise became an outspoken advocate of Amerasian rights at a time when society refused to acknowledge their existence for religious or cultural reasons. While most people ignored them, Amelia opened her arms, home and heart to the Amerasians. She saw them not as unwanted children but as boys and girls to be loved nurtured and cherished.
- Thanks to Mama Amelia, these children were given the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing, which they would otherwise not have enjoyed. She personally saw to their health, education, and religious instruction. But more than that, they were given the love, care and affection of a real parent.
- Today the Boys' Town and Girls Home continue s to be a haven for around 70 homeless children. Despite her advanced age, Amelia continues to provide them with a good life and secures for them a better future.
- In addition, Amelia also headed the Olongapo-Iba Catholic Women's League and is the Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross in Olongapo.
- Amelia also made her mark in the field of business and entrepreneurship. Before her husband's entry into politics, she built Olongapo's first centrally air-conditioned hotel, a chain of restaurants, cinemas and a supermarket. All these were named "Admiral."
- More than being a public servant, a civic leader, a successful businesswoman and a dedicated wife, Amelia is a devoted mother.
- Her happy union with James Sr. produced 5 children, namely: Veronica Gordon-Lorenzana; Barbara Gordon-delos Reyes; Cecille Gordon-Mullen; Richard Gordon and James Gordon, Jr.
- Veronica or Onnie is successful in her hotel and resort business - White Rock chain of Hotel and Resort and married to George Lorenzana a leading businessman in the food industry. Barbara or Bai ha been successful in building her restaurant chain and catering service and is married to Antonio delos Reyes a leader of the Catholic laity closely associated with Cardinal Jaime Sin. Cecille who also owns her cakes and catering service is now in the US and is married to John Mullen who works in the United Nations.
- Amelia's two sons have inherited her and her husband's passion for public service. Richard or Dick is presently serving his country as a member of the Cabinet being Secretary of Tourism having been the founding Chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. He pioneered the bases conversion after the Americans left in 1992. Dick was Mayor of Olongapo from 1980-1994 transforming its sin city image to a model for the entire country. Previously, he was the youngest delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. His wife Kate is on her third term as Mayor of Olongapo and has also served as Congresswoman of the 1st District of Zambales.
- Meanwhile, youngest son, James or Bong was a successful businessman making his mark in broadcasting. In 1994, he was appointed as Councilor of Olongapo by then President Ramos. In 1995 he ran and won as Congressman of the 1st District of Zambales. He is now on his third term and Chair of the Bases Oversight Committee in Congress.
- In addition to their 2 sons and 3 daughter, Mama Amelia and her husband also took under their wings two more children - Imelda Deza and Donald Fisher, giving them the same love and care as any child could hope for. Imelda, a nurse now lives in the US and is happily married to Rene a Doctor. Donald on the other hand is engaged in a small business and happily living with his wife Ellen delos Reyes in the Philippines.
- Victor Hugo once wrote that "a mothers arms are made of tenderness and sweet sleep blesses the child who lies therein". Now at the ripe age of 84, Amelia's arms continue to be felt by her children, her 21 grandchildren, by her foster children and indeed by the City of Olongapo.