Clear, present danger to Subic Bay


THE SUBIC BAY is a vital part of the life and livelihood of communities in and around the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales and Bataan. EV ESPIRITU

The Subic Bay, one of the country’s top tourism destinations, possesses a deep harbor protected by mountains and the Grande Island, making it an ideal port for vessels and site for the once US naval base—the American government’s largest military installation outside of the mainland from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.

The bay area is now seen as a model for bases conversion, having successfully transformed itself into an economic hub run by the state-owned Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Its strategic location in Asia, which puts it near emerging powers like China, has continued to make it attractive to American forces, hence the frequent visits of US vessels and nuclear submarines to the port.

But as a 2010 the Philippine Daily Inquirer report made clear, the Subic Bay remains a threatened asset. The stench emanating from the polluted Kalalake River is still unbearable to thousands of workers who go through the port’s gates every day.

The recent controversy involving allegations of waste dumping by a US Navy contractor within or near the bay has shown that a clear and present danger to the water body still exists.

As early as 2010, then SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza asked communities around the port and their leaders to heed the warning signs. “[The] Subic Bay may cease to serve as the economic lifeblood of the free port if the stresses affecting the water quality in the bay are left unchecked,” he said.

“If the degradation continues, we would lose our beautiful beaches, fishermen would have less fish to catch, the bay would become murky and silted, and ultimately, the Subic Bay Freeport would become less attractive to investors and tourists,” he added.

The Kalalake River, named by American soldiers once stationed at the naval base as “Shit River,” joins another Olongapo waterway and empties into the Subic Bay. In its current state, the river is symptomatic of the dangers and problems stemming from decades of

neglect and environmental decline.

Arreza said the Subic Bay, which forms part of the communal waters of Olongapo City, Zambales and Bataan, is considered a “threatened resource” due to patches of pollution caused by the disposal of partially treated sewage, nutrient inflows from changes in land use and inadequate treatment of industrial wastes.

Olongapo Mayor James Gordon Jr. said Subic Water—

which supplies both the city and the free port—had a provision in its contract to provide a sewerage system for the city. This would have addressed the concerns about domestic wastes coming from Olongapo into the bay, he said.

Subic Water, in a statement, said the firm was bound by its contract to rehabilitate and upgrade the existing water and sewerage facilities of Olongapo and the Subic Bay Freeport.

Timothy Desmond, president of the marine theme park, Ocean Adventure, said his firm, Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), was deeply concerned about the increasing threats to the bay.

“As life-long conservation educators, the owners of SBMEI understand the unique environmental value of the bay. We strongly feel that the environmental protections for the bay are on the verge of collapse. Our business model is totally dependent on a healthy bay,” he said.

Ocean Adventure’s dolphins are kept in open water and are exposed to everything that all the other marine life in the bay are exposed to, he said. “We cannot sit quietly by while the environment that we are so dependent upon is degraded.”

The waste dumping incident involving Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines is “just the tip of the iceberg,” Desmond said, noting that a major oil spill in the bay happened in July but it was dismissed by the SBMA’s seaport department only as an “oil sheen.”

Berkman report

Danny Piano, president of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce, said preliminary results of the Programmatic Environmental Performance Report and Management Plan conducted by Berkman Systems Inc. for the free port this year were “upsetting.”

The SBMA contracted Berkman in September 2011 for the environmental study and initial results were presented to port stakeholders, including Piano, in August.

The study, which will cost the SBMA P7 million, includes the collection of air and water quality data, flora and fauna inventory and the determination of the environmental carrying capacity of the Subic Bay Freeport.

Piano said: “The level of coliform, a bacteria commonly used as an indicator of the sanitary quality of water, is unbelievably high.” Citing that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources water quality standard for total coliform is 1,000 mpn/100ml (most probable number of coliform per 100 milliliters of water), he said the average downstream coliform level in all 13 rivers (within the bay) was more than 800,000 mpn/100ml.

For heavy metals, three elements—cadmium, lead and mercury—exceeded the standards, he said.

“The alarming levels of coliform, cadmium and mercury will be very difficult and very expensive to fix. It will require tons of money, it will require political will from local governments around the bay, it will require cooperation from all stakeholders,” he said.

But SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said the Berkman report has yet to be completed. The report, according to an SBMA official, was only in its preliminary stages and many things had to be done and clarified.

“Where were the samples taken? If it were near the Matain or the Kalaklan rivers, that was expected (to show high levels of pollutants). The domestic waste from Olongapo flows through there into the bay,” said the official, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the issue.

In a statement released last month when the Glenn Defense waste dumping issue triggered a Senate inquiry, Garcia said: “Latest tests show that the Subic Bay’s waters remain clean, safe and continue to be within normal levels.”

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Jimmy

    Sa buong Pilipinas ang mga ilog ay ginagawang tapunan ng lahat ng uri ng basura..!!! Marami nang ilog ang namamatay pati na  ang lawa ng Laguna ay halos hindi na makain ang isda dahil sa polusyon..! Ang mga baybaying dagat ay wala ng korals dahil din sa siltation at polusyon…!!!!  Ano ang ginagawa ng DENR sa  mga problemang ito gayong may budget silang bilyong bilyon piso..!!!!!??????????

    • dragon27

      The problem is not with the DENR, it is with every Filipino who has not yet learned discipline, throwing trash anywhere.

       As long as we keep on relying on the government to solve our problems, failing to see that part of the solution is with us, we will never be able to fully solve it.The quality og government service simply reflects the quality of our actions in our environment.

  • Andy710

    SBMA leadership modeled on the “3 Wise Monkeys”.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Say No Evil.

    Subic Bay is known internationally as a polluted and sub-par destination.  There is little tangible international tourism, especially from western countries – most of what exists is clustered outside of SBFZ on the National Hwy (to escape the bureaucratic nightmare that is the SBMA).

    Tourism in Subic Bay is entirely dependent on the quality and vibrancy of a healthy marine environment. Heavy pollution, subsequent algae growths in the water, destruction of coral reefs by dynamite and cyanide fishing, illegal salvage to the ship-wrecks (an attraction for visiting scuba divers) and thousands of tonnes of plastic trash floating in the water… DO NOT entice any visitors to the Bay.  Those who do visit – recommend to all not to go there.  

    A lot of work needs to be done, if tourist dollars were to become a significant income to the local communities and people of Subic Bay.  The area was gifted from God with a near-perfect combination of facilities, environment and prime location – one that could attract and support an immense and profitable tourism industry. Everything in man’s power seems to have been done to squander that gift…

  • WeAry_Bat

    Add CFPs to the mix, then there should be biohazard signs on the area.

  • Joe Kano

    This story is a decent start, and better late than never, I guess.
    But it isn’t particularly in-depth or hard-hitting, and it could have easily been produced weeks ago to provide some much-needed perspective and demonstrate some media maturity when PDI instead chose to publish ridiculously sloppy, biased and sensationalist garbage about “the recent controversy,” replete with a disgusting level of fake nationalist hypocrisy and instigated, very likely, by someone’s not-so-hidden waste-hauling profit motive.
    The “recent controversy” was NOTHING compared to the constant dumping directly into S hit River and Subic Bay.
    Where are the loudmouth Congress members now?
    PDI should now take a larger look at the permitted (and un-permitted) discharge of similar wastewater from ships in the Philippine EEZ. The “recent controversy” was likely a proverbial drop in the bucket, but perhaps no self-serving whistle-blowers or political grandstanders are crying about the rest.
    And then there’s always the Pasig….

  • joboni96

    siguradong in danger ang subic

    nakatayo na mga support facilities
    para sa mga submarine at barko
    ng imperyalistang u.s. navy

    legitimate military target na ang subic
    ng intsik switik
    sa gerrang imperyalista vs switik

    pollution is the least of the dangers
    facing the people of subic and those within 30 kms

    paalisin na ninyo mga support facilities
    ng imperyalistang u.s. navy dyan

    • Edwin Edwin

      Ikaw ba yan, Renato Reyes ng BAYAN???? halatang-halata ka ah….

      • joboni96

        si joboni ito pro pilipino

        si edwin kolonisadong utak

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks



latest videos