OLONGAPO CITY — At the recent celebration of the 29th founding anniversary of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), former Provincial Information Officer Mike Pusing paid tribute to the groundbreaking achievements of Senator Richard Gordon, specifically in the successful conversion of the former American naval and air force facilities in Subic and Clark into the current premiere trade zones that they are today, continuously contributing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments into the country.
Pusing, who was a witness to this outstanding feat in 1992 said, “Richard Gordon, even as young delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention of the Philippines, already envisioned the idea of a Freeport like Hong Kong and Singapore as the alternative to the US naval facility in Subic Bay. He realized this after witnessing the displacement of Filipino workers during the US Navy pull-out at Sangley Point, Cavite.”
“In 1980, as the youngest city mayor of Olongapo, he drafted a joint-use plan of Subic Bay by the Philippine and US governments with commercial enterprises eventually phasing in as the US Navy withdrew from the base,” Pusing narrated.
It will be remembered that during the impending withdrawal of the US military forces in 1992, following the Philippine Senate’s rejection of the proposal for treaty extension, Gordon lobbied in Congress to convert the American naval and air force facilities in Subic and Clark into economic enclaves by integrating the creation of the SBMA in the Bases Conversion and Development Act (BCDA) of 1992. This bill was filed by then Congresswoman Kate Gordon, wife of Sen. Gordon.
As founding chair and administrator of SBMA, Gordon went on to inspire an army of 8,000 volunteers who protected and preserved the US$8 billion facility and successfully transformed it into the Philippines’ premier investment hub.
SBMA successfully hosted the 4th APEC Leaders Summit in 1996. By June 1998, SBMA had listed over 300 investors including American companies Federal Express, Coastal Petroleum and Enronas, Taiwan’s Acer Computers and France’s Thompson Audio.
Gordon was also known for subsequently transforming Olongapo’s “Sin City” image into the Philippines’ model city through innovative programs that involved an active citizenry in saving time, ensuring police accountability, efficient garbage collection, proper health and sanitation, and orderly public transport and traffic.
Gordon has since then been invited to share this experience in bases conversion and volunteerism with other governments and communities in countries like Panama, Iran, Vietnam, and Japan.
Pusing also underscored the fact that Gordon’s achievements were not confined in bases conversion alone. He added, “as an active volunteer and officer of Red Cross, Sen. Gordon led numerous relief and rescue operations. These include earthquakes in the 1990’s that hit Manila, Cabanatuan and Baguio cities in Luzon; typhoons and floods in Silay and Ormoc cities in Central and Western Visayas; volcanic eruptions of Mt. Mayon in 1993 and 2000 and the 1991 eruption of the century of Mt. Pinatubo where he led thousands of Aetas to safety. He also assisted the Philippine National Red Cross in fires that razed the Philippine International Convention Center and the Manor Hotel.”
He added, “in March 2001, Gordon worked out the successful release, without any ransom money paid, of 18 Filipino hostages from the Abu Sayyaf with the help and assistance of the local Red Crescent of Basilan Island.”
Sen. Gordon received numerous awards and recognitions throughout his distinguished public service life. Pusing enumerated the highlights of Gordon’s career achievements.
He was conferred in 2001 the Silver Humanitarian Award for voluntary efforts in alleviating human suffering by the The Philippine National Red Cross.
The country’s premier state university University of the Philippines (UP) recognized him as an Outstanding Alumnus in Public Administration in 1984 and later bestowed him its highest recognition as The Most Distinguished Alumnus in 1997.
He was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young men (TOYM) in 1982 and the youngest to receive such award. Asahi Shimbun recognized him as one of the 50 outstanding Young Leaders of Asia in 1994. Asiaweek, in its 20th anniversary issue, cited him as one of the 20 Great Asians for the Future while NHK TV featured him as one of Asia’s Who’s Who in 1995.