SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—The planned conversion of the idle Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) into a tourism complex will not push through due to plans of the Department of National Defense (DND) to use the area as a military base, a top official of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) said.
SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said his vision to convert the 200-hectare SBIA into a family-oriented, integrated, international tourist destination like Sentosa Island in Singapore had been derailed because the DND wants to use the airport with its counterpart in the United States military.
“The DND wants to move the Philippine Air Force (PAF) base from Basa [in Floridablanca, Pampanga] to SBIA. If so, then the airport conversion cannot push through,” he said.
The Basa Air Base hosts the PAF’s Air Defense Wing and the 355th Air Engineering Wing.
The DND’s plan to use SBIA came even as Garcia had pinned his hopes on using the airport to improve the financial condition of this debt-ridden free port. He, however, said the schedule for the PAF’s transfer here has yet to be finalized.
When asked if the PAF’s use of SBIA is temporary, Garcia said: “If they transfer, [it will] most likely be permanent.”
A Philippine Information Agency (PIA) report confirmed the inevitability of the transfer as SBIA is now “being eyed [by the DND] as a forward base for the joint operations of the PAF and the US Air Force Pacific alliance to maintain regional balance in light of territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.”
Garcia, in an earlier interview, said the plan to convert SBIA was one of the “out of the box” solutions to attract more investments to Subic and increase its revenue stream.
The SBIA land is a prime piece of real estate and was formerly the Cubi Point Air Station (Radford Field) of the US Navy.
SBIA was home to courier giant Federal Express (FedEx) until 2008, when the company relocated to China.
But Garcia described the airport as a “cash drain” for SBMA.
He said the airport complex has been underutilized, causing its income to drop from P255.2 million in 2005 to P36.6 million in 2011 and netting, after debt servicing, an average loss of P150 million since 2010.
“It’s nice to have an airport, but Subic is going bankrupt. That’s a major asset, but it’s not being used,” he said.
The conversion plan consists of building convention centers, business process outsourcing parks, a science and technology center, casinos, theme parks, a golf course and luxury villas.
Earlier, former Sen. Richard Gordon scored Garcia’s plan of converting the airport due to its importance in turning Subic into a major port.
Gordon, a former SBMA chair, said it took $40 million to rebuild and modernize SBIA.
“The airport is vital to Subic if the government wants to transform [the free port] into another Hong Kong or Singapore,” he said. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon