|It took a colossal force of nature to hasten the retreat of the United States military in 1991 from Subic Bay Naval Base, the largest, overseas U.S. military navy station.|
But the devastation that was Mount Pinatubo was faced head-on by the united force of the decided people of Olongapo, transforming the abandoned American naval base into a veritable jewel of Zambales province and the entire country: the Subic Bay Freeport in the Subic Special Economic Zone.
On March 13, 1992, Congress passed Republic Act 7227, known as the Bases Conversion and Development Act.
RA 7227 likewise created the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to develop and manage the Freeport that provided tax and duty-free privileges and incentives to business locators in the special economic zone.
SBMA Chairperson and Administrator Wilma ‘Amy’ Eisma said in a media interview that when the Subic Naval Base closed down in 1992, the people of Olongapo were depressed over the loss of 35,000 jobs that the US Navy generated.
But today, 25 years later, Eisma said that the SBMA had “long surpassed the numbers.” As of May 2017, the SBMA’s active workforce within the Freeport is 121, 824 people directly employed by some 2,799 locators.
Noli Manuel, former business development officer and now social media and digital marketing head of SBMA
According to Noli Manuel, 47, former business development officer and now, social media and digital marketing head of SBMA, these locators are grouped into categories such as manufacturing, services, ship building and marine-related services, construction, as well as domestic helpers, caretakers, and others.
Manuel has been with the SBMA for 20 years. He revealed that in the previous years, many of the locators were Koreans. Today, he said, the trend leans toward Chinese locators.
“We see a growth in Chinese communities. We say communities because they start not only to work here, but also live here. They become part of the community.They bring in their family for education,” Manuel said.
He added that prospects are bright for the shipping industry locators in Subic. “If the economy will grow at higher than 6% continuously for five years, that will double the volume of cargoes that will be handled by Manila and a huge percentage of that, about 25% will be bound or originating from Central Luzon, which could be handled by Subic Freeport.”
Manuel said that foreign direct investments in the Subic Bay Freeport has consistently increased from 2012 to 2017.
“In 2013, we experienced a growth rate of 3% or 1,355 investors from 1,317 investors in 2012. This grew to 17% from 2015 to 2016. We are now only in the first half of 2017 and already, our growth rate has reached 30% or 1,942 investors,” he revealed.
According to a comparative report from the SBMA Finance Group, agency earnings increased further this year compared to 2016 records. The agency’s net income surged by 148% from P18.5 million in the first quarter of 2016 to P46.76 million in the first quarter of 2017.
Subic Bay Freeport has attractive incentives to investors. It offers exemption from all local and national taxes, with only a 5% corporate tax on gross income. Importations of raw materials and capital equipment are also tax and duty-free. Likewise, 100% foreign ownership is allowed.
Rhona Bayani, Officer-in-Charge of the SBMA’s Media Production Department, said that SBMA has corporate social responsibility programs for stakeholder communities that may be affected by developments and projects within and around the Freeport.
SEA, LAND, AIR
The Subic Bay Freeport Zone spans a total of more than 130,000 hectares. It is a complete port, with 15 piers & wharves that can support a wide range of cargoes.
Subic Bay is accessible to and from the fastest growing ASEAN markets. It averages only three to five travel days for countries in the Asean region and 22 days from Subic to Los Angeles, USA.
The Freeport has two new container terminals covering 26.32 hectares and a handling capacity of 600,000 TEUs per year. Financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for P7 billion, the terminals are operated by the Subic Bay Internationl Terminal Corporation (SBITC).
SBTI is an affiliate of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), one of the top five major maritime terminal operations in the world, according to the Asian Development Bank.
The port also services nine container shipping lines that connects Subic to the United States, Europe, the Middle East, China, Japan, and other countries in the Asian Region.
The Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) uniquely complements the port of Subic Bay. The SBIA occupies a 200-hectare facility that meets International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.
SBMA’s Subic Bay Freeport is accessible by land through three points: the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), which connects Metro Manila to Central Luzon; the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) which links the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Clark Freeport Zone and Tarlac Industrial Park; and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) connecting Central to Northern Luzon.
There is also the NCT 1 & 2 ACCESS ROAD, a 3.6-km. access road, connecting New Container Terminals 1 and 2 to Subic Freeport’s Argonaut Highway, all the way to the Tipo Expressway—Subic’s nearest entry-exit point to and from Manila
BASTION FOR NEXT GENERATION
Among the major development projects of SBMA for Subic Bay Freeport are: the US$120 million expansion of bulk cargo port facilities; the US$ 45 million road widening and expansion of the existing Tipo Road into a four lane highway; the new bypass road connecting seaport terminals directly to SCTEX, and the development of the Redondo Peninsula.
According to Eisma, the 994-hectare Redondo Peninsula once develop, will attract investors to settle in the area. “Right now a wasteland, a former practice range of the Americans, But soon, we will actually generate probably double the employment that we can generate now here in the Subic Bay Freeport.”
She added, however that the Subic Freeport remains the bastion for the next generation. “Land has a fixed income, but we have rising expenses. It’s really in the port where we can have our variable income.”
SBMA has generated a revenue amounting to P614 million from port operations during the first half of 2017.“Largely, our biggest source of income is really the port operations. A good number of ships dock in Subic,” Eisma said.
There are 10 key solutions that SBMA offers to clients. These include: faster turnaround time, no red tape, reduced processing time, no congestion, no traffic, vessels can dock upon arrival, no truck ban, lower port tariff, higher efficiency, and ISO quality service.
Eisma is confident that under her leadership, the SBMA will be more viable and attractive to users, compared to the ports of Manila or Batangas. “For 15 years, I sold cigarettes and cigarettes are actually products that can kill. So, if I can sell cigarettes, what else can I sell? I can sell anything, I can sell everything.” G
When the best man for the job is a woman
On September 26, Wilma ‘Amy’ T. Eisma took her oath of office as the chairperson and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), ending a nine-month, highly publicized, tug-of-war on who should hold the reins of authority in Asia’s fastest growing Freeport
In the 80s, when American military might and influence still held sway in Subic Bay and Olongapo City in Zambales, she and her siblings spent every weekend of their childhood peddling food and stuff to fellow Filipinos and to American servicemen, their families, and their girl friends.
Wilma ‘Amy’ T. Eisma—future chairperson and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)—would join her mother in a bangketa [pavement] near the city’s post office to sell greeting cards and stationeries on Saturdays and Sundays, while still in grade school.
She added that by the time she reached Grade VI, her mother would let her ride the Victory Liner bus and travel to Divisoria alone to buy Christmas cards and stationery supplies.
The young Eisma also sold adobong mani [fried shelled peanuts] at the basketball court of Rizal Triangle, the multi-purpose center of Olongapo City, during her high school years.
“I was honed in hard work, in that kind of work ethic. My parents wanted to give all their children the best education. And since we were not born with a silver spoon in our mouths, we had to help. My Ate (older sister) sold dry goods at the city’s wet market, where my parents had a stall. We knew the value of money and hard work early on. I came from that kind of culture where money is not taken lightly;where money is something that you earn with blood, sweat, and tears,” she recalled.
The third child in a brood of four, Eisma remembered how her father Abe and her mother Clarita would wake up at three in the morning and take a boat to the Vietnamese Refugees Camp in Morong, Bataan. “All of us helped in packing the goods they would sell there. We are very close as a family and got even closer when our father died in 2001.”
Once married, Eisma said her world revolves around her nephews. “I don’t have kids. I am separated from my husband, perhaps, because I am a strong woman. Things just didn’t work out. But I don’t regret anything. I am happily divorced,” she said.
Born and raised in Olongapo, Eisma would leave the then family home in Gordon Heights to study at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and later, at the Ateneo de Manila University, where she took and finished her law degree.
Upon passing the bar, she went back to Olongapo to serve as one of the original 8,000 SBMA volunteers when the SBMA was created through Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 7227, also known as the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992.
Eisma stayed at SBMA for five years (1993-1998), working as executive assistant to its then chairman Richard Gordon and as a member of the SBMA Legal Department.
She said that working with Gordon reinforced the work ethic she had earlier imbibed from her parents. “My work style, my drive for work, my passion, my dedication—namana ko po lahat yan sa kanya [I got all of (these traits) from him]. My first job was with him and I am very proud of that fact. His mentorship led to a lot of good things. Many were impressed by the work ethic I got from Dick Gordon,” Eisma said.
She opted out of the SBMA in 1998, after Gordon was replaced by Felicito C. Payumo as SBMA chair, during the administration of Pres. Joseph Estrada.
Eisma then worked as head executive assistant and legal counsel of then House Majority Leader Mar Roxas in 1998. She later became his chief of staff after Roxas was appointed Trade and Industry Secretary by Pres. Estrada.
In 2001, Eisma took the job of sustainability and contributions manager of billionaire Lucio Tan’s Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Corporation, Inc. (PMFTC).
She stayed in PMFTC for 16 years. Throughout that time, Eisma garnered various awards for her work in the private corporation. These included: Excellence Award for the years 2003, 2007, and 2011; President’s Award as Manager for Government Relations (2005), Awardee of the Best Contribution Program (2009); and the Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award (2010).
On her first year as Chairperson and Administrator of SBMA, Eisma received the Filipina Leadership Summit Award after being adjudged a winner in the 2017 search for “100 Most Influential Filipina in the World.” The award recognizes women who have reached outstanding status in their respective professions, industries, and communities.
As the first woman chairperson and administrator of SBMA, Eisma said she learned to wear heels almost all the time because this was part of the corporate culture. “Being a woman Chief Executive Officer, I give the complete package—a strong, smart woman with a heart and a moral compass, and of course, I bring in the femininity when necessary.”
At 5-feet and 3 inches, she described her character as “hindi pa-bebe” [not girlish or coy], adding that she doesn’t like pink and went for blue, black, gray, and brown colors in her choice of clothes.
Eisma was first appointed by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to be the administrator of SBMA in December 2016. But by September 26 of this year, she was also directed to assume the position of SBMA chairperson, replacing then chairman Martin Diño.
Duterte’s announcement of Eisma as Diño’s replacement came after almost nine months of a highly publicized leadership dispute between the two top officials of SBMA and a subsequent investigation by the House of Representatives on the conflict.
The announcement also came with the issuance of EO 42, which gives the positions of SBMA administrator and chairman to a single person to avoid confusion on the scope of authority, powers, and duties of the SBMA administrator and chairman.
EO 42 repealed EO 340, issued in 2004 by then Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which allowed for separate appointments for SBMA chair and SBMA administrator.
As chair and administrator, Eisma can now execute, administer, and implement policies and measures approved and adopted by the SBMA Board, even as she directly administers and supervises day-to-day operations at the SBMA.
Eisma said that fighting corruption remains one of her key advocacies, and with good reason. “People here know me personally. They know my brothers, my sisters, the legacy of my last name. These are more important to me than pieces of silver. No amount of pieces of silver can attract me to muddle the legacy of my last name. And because this community is my home, I can actually tell you that I have zero tolerance for corruption, zero tolerance for smuggling, and zero tolerance for graft, because this is my community.”
During her first speech before SBMA officers after her September 26 appointment, Eisma voiced a unity call: “The bottomline is the agenda of the SBMA, the agenda we’re pushing is the Subic Bay Freeport. What we need to do is buckle down to work. We have to be vigilant because the eyes of the media and those who got hurt are on us. Let us forget factions.”
Eisma added: “We only have one President. We only have one country. What we need to do is unite to make this country grow; make this country better. There’s no more Team Diño. There’s no Team Eisma. There shouldn’t be. There should only be Team SBMA. There should only be a #SBMA. Wala ng iba [There should be no other]. #Stronger together.”
Back to basics
SBMA chairperson and administrator Wilma ‘Amy’ T. Eisma made it clear that unlike past SBMA chairpersons, she does not yet share in the vision of making Subic or SBMA the next Singapore.
“The thing that I want to do is really to go back to basics. Kasi, sa totoo lang [Because, in truth], after 25 years, I feel that the sense of community has been lost. Our moral compass got lost along the way.”
She added that when the SBMA started in 1992, the people were all driven by a sense of community and a need to make a difference. “We did not think of ourselves. We thought of the community. May malasakit [There was concern],” she said.
Rather than be filled with grandiose visions of an SBMA at par with Singapore, Eisma said she’d rather first work on putting Subic back into tip-top shape.
“I want to bring back the kind of morale that made people proud and happy to be in Subic. A morale that made them look forward to a Subic that is safe, secure, and disciplined,” she explained.
OUT-OF-THE BOX SOLUTIONS
Eisma added that the new SBMA leadership will have to find out-of-the-box solutions to prevailing concerns.
One solution, she said, would be to seek an amendment to RA 7227, that will allow SBMA to use 1%of the 5% gross income collected in the Subic Freeport.
She added that there is no law that prohibits SBMA from asking money from the national government. “Why would we not ask? As it turns out, we can. That is why I went to the budget hearing. This is the first time that we will get money from the national budget. Nobody has ever tried.”
Eisma further reasoned that the national government does not allocate a budget for SBMA because SBMA is self-sustaining. And because it is declared as self-sustaining, it has to make do with what it earns.
According to Eisma, SBMA did not earn enough to support the maintence of the port.
“Can you imagine, our road maintenance budget is only P10 million. And yet I have to protect more than 13,000 hectares. The budget is not even enough to paint the yellow lines on the road. Our maintenance expenses include payment of salaries of the staff and personnel. So whatever remains after everything has been deducted, we allocate for maintenance. That is why Subic has deteriorated. In fact, the last time the port was dredged was 25 years ago. So, it is now heavily silted,” she said. G