A decorated former United States Navy admiral has discounted the possibility of the reported plan to re-establish an American military base in the Philippines like the facility they used to share in Subic Bay.
In an open letter to President Duterte, retired US Navy Rear Admiral Daniel W. McKinnon, Jr. instead suggests it would be a “good business” for the Philippines to embrace the idea of bringing shipyard jobs back to Subic Bay.
McKinnon was reacting to the statement made by President Duterte during his State of the Nation Address last week where the latter flatly rejected the reported US plan to return to its former naval base in the Philippines.
“I saw in the press that in your recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) you voiced concern about the United States Navy returning to establish a base in the Philippines, like the remarkable joint security facility we used to share in Subic. I believe I can assure you it will never happen,” the retired US naval officer said in his letter dated July 29, 2020.
McKinnon, who was stationed at the former US base in Subic, said what can happen is that the US Navy can help re-establish a viable “commercial” ship overhaul and voyage repair, or even ship construction industry on historic Subic Bay.
“And why not? It is neither war provocation nor threatening to the Philippine people,” the retired US Navy officer said.
If approached to bring shipyard jobs back to Subic Bay under a public-private partnership, the Philippine government should embrace the idea, noting that the Philippines is a 7,000-island archipelago straddling a major artery of world commerce.
“Repairing ships transiting that artery is only good business,” he said.
He explained that the US Navy, and every sea power, commercial or naval, needs voyage repair. For decades the Ship Repair Facility (SRF) on the deep-water port of Subic Bay, and a similar facility in the port of Yokosuka in Japan, helped sustain the upkeep of ships far from home.
He recalled having attended the opening of Philseco, a commercial ship repair facility at Subic City in 1981. The US bases, however, were closed in 1992 after the Philippine Senate rejected the extension of its tenure.
The facility later became Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, a commercial bulk cargo ship construction on the Redondo peninsula across the City of Olongapo.
“It became of national importance, providing employment to the many skilled Philippine shipyard workers displaced when the US Navy SRF at Olongapo closed in 1992. It was sad to see Hanjin go into bankruptcy and the effect it had on Philippine families,” McKinnon said.
In his open letter, McKinnon remembered back in 1968 when his naval ship was undergoing repair in Subic. “I and my friends became tourists. It was wonderful to attend a concert of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, visit the historic island of Corregidor, and learn to love ‘pancit’, both ‘canton’ and ‘bihon’. Doctors loved going into the small communities on Luzon providing family health care. Ships, both commercial and military, need voyage repair. Sailors go ashore, become tourists, and make friends.”
Upon the closure of the SRF in Subic, the US Navy workload moved to countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, among others. When the first United States military command was established in Singapore in 1991, it became a regional contracting center, not a base.
“It was all about the conduct of business in Asia,” he said.
While in Subic Bay, McKinnon was assigned as Director, Shipbuilding and Overhaul Contracts, Naval Sea Systems Command and Commanding Officer, Naval Supply Depot.
He co-founded an organization that provides vocational training to unemployed young men, co-founded a foundation that supported the City of Olongapo hospital and orphanage, and later becoming an honorary citizen of the city.
In his military career, McKinnon was a recipient of two Legions of Merit and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal of the US Department of Defense.