Subic freeport zone hitting the doldrums

by Willie Ng
Manila Bulletin 27 September 2000

THE administration should pay some attention to the Asian Wall Street Journal's piece (Sept. 21) on the decline of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

In 1997, according to AWSJ reporter Robert Frank, "economic developers worldwide were trekking to Subic to study the Philippine miracle."

That was an era when Acer, FedEx, fiber-optic cable factories and the Malaysian-run casino were going great guns.

* * *

Today, Acer has slashed over 1,000 of its original 2,600 workers from the payroll and moved one PC line to China and two notebook lines back to Taiwan.

"The factory has so much empty space that workers have started playing soccer on the testing floor," wrote Frank.

It is hoped that the return of China Air Lines and Eva Air Lines flights will lower freight costs and flying time for motherboards and other parts from Taiwan, thereby normalizing Acer's operations.

* * *

The Subic management cites 30 new projects, 20,000 new jobs and over $1 billion in exports for the past year.

All that, according to locals, have been offset by a rash of closings and cutbacks.

There is over $30 million in back rentals, according to Frank, and residents say that "brown-outs, smuggling and crime have returned."

* * *

Add to this the requirement for Subic companies to hire only from the Subic jobs center where workers are from Bataan, the bailiwick of Subic Chairman Felicito Payumo, former Bataan congressman.

According to Frank, Payumo said this was to correct the favoritism of his predecessor, Dick Gordon, toward Olongapo residents.

A company which wanted to hire "a talented Web-site designer from Olongapo'' had to wait for weeks to get approval.

Last Sunday, a visitor to Subic, coming to a full stop at an intersection while waiting for the intersecting traffic to cross, finally made his move only to be challenged by a traffic policeman who asked him why he failed to stop.

Obviously that fellow must be from Bataan. The former policemen, all Olongapo natives, knew what they were doing.

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