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 MalacaƱang 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.