SBMA funds spent to transform formerUS naval base into investment hub

Published November 11, 2021, 4:32 PM

by Mario Casayuran

The alleged P141-million disallowed expenses of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) from 1993 to 1996 had been lawfully spent and accounted for to transform the former US naval base into the premier investment hub of the country.

Lawyer Anacleto Diaz, representing former SBMA Chairman and now Senator Richard J. Gordon, said the order for the collection of settlement for the P140.7 million representing disallowed expenses charged to former SBMA officials could not be demanded due to lack of factual, legal, and equitable grounds.

He said that based on COA Circular 94-001 and as adopted by the Supreme Court, Gordon, at the time that he was Chairman and Administrator of the SBMA, was not an accountable officer whose duty permitted or required him to have possession and custody of SBMA’s funds or property.

The Diaz press statement stated that President Duterte has revived the issue of SBMA’s disallowances after senators have unearthed evidence of corruption involving the government’s purchase of overpriced medical supplies and equipment for the country’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thus earnestly hope that SBMA will cease and desist from pursuing its demand against our client as well as other officials of SBMA similarly situated,” Diaz said in his letter sent to SBMA Administrator Wilma Eisma last Oct. 27.

Diaz explained that SBMA documents showed that the P140,742,086.37 was used for the procurement of its network and telecommunications equipment, the payroll of thousands of employees, and the payment for the Balikatan volunteers’ meals in compliance with the SBMA’s mandate.

“SBMA’s own records show disbursements for the volunteers who guarded the facilities and equipment of the Subic Naval Base to prevent the looting and pillage that happened in Clark Air Base when the Americans also withdrew from that Base, where even bathroom and toilet fixtures were stolen,” he said.

According to him, more than 8,000 volunteers worked to secure, preserve and maintain the properties and facilities of the Base left by the US Navy, including the forest and the waters surrounded the Subic Naval Base.

“Subic Bay Freeport Zone is what it is today because of the grit, dedication and determination of the selfless volunteers who, led by Senator Gordon, protected, preserved and maintained the area after the Americans left the Base,” he said.

Diaz pointed out that “[t]he disallowed amount served as the precursor to SBMA’s premier status as a catalyst of economic growth, employment opportunities and preferred hub for local-foreign direct investments, which benefited not just the SBMA, but also the residents of the Bataan-Olongapo-Zambales area.”

“To thus require our client and the SBMA officials who may have disbursed funds for the 8,000 or so volunteers who guarded and preserved the assets of SBMA during its infancy would be ingratitude running roughshod,” he said.

Diaz also underscored that “the purchase of US Navy properties and equipment in the Subic Naval Base were most favorable to the Government of the Philippines which paid 10 cents to every USD1 for these properties and equipment.”

“The details of these purchases, including the payments to the US Treasury, show beyond doubt that the sums claimed in the demand were not pocketed by Senator Gordon and other officials of SBMA; most of them are still there being used for SBMA purposes and for everyone to see,” he stressed.

In addition, Diaz noted the fact that Senator Gordon and other former SBMA officials were never served any Notices of Suspension (NS) despite the lapse of 23 years and after the COA resolutions became final and executory.

In fact, he continued, Gordon and former SBMA officials were never party to COA and Supreme Court proceedings, notably on the Notice of Finality of Decision or COA Order of Execution.

When the Americans left its naval base in Subic in Nov. 24, 1992, Gordon successfully rallied its former base workers and local volunteers to stop the looting and transform it into the most successful base conversion that is widely recognized by international organizations.

Subic then was envied as a premier tourist destination in the world, earning for itself the recognition as the “Tourism Destination of the Year” in 1994 – or in just one year since he assumed chairmanship of SBMA.

Under his leadership, Gordon created more than 200,000 jobs, generated over US$3 billion in investments from Coastal Petroleum, Federal Express, Acer, Thomson Audio, BICC Cables, Omron Mechatronics, Volvo Penta, Hitachi, and Sankyo Sieki, and enhanced over US$8 billion worth of infrastructure left by the Americans.