“Subic” was derived from the native word “hubek”, which means “head of a plow”. The origin of the name was a by-product of altruistic colonial enterprise.
On a bright day in 1542, Juan de Salcedo, the able Spanish conquistador and dashing grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, founded Subic while collecting tributes in the area. The town’s name at that time is Hubek. How this name was chaged to Subic is the stuff of persistent leged. It tells of Salcedo’s mispronouncing “Hubek” as “Subiq”. By the time of the American occupation of Subic, the Yankees mispronounced “Subiq” into “Subig”.Later on “Subig” became “Subiq” again, but the letter q – apparently of Spanish origin – was replaced with letter c, hence the name “Subic”.
Nearly 86 years after Spain had established in September 1776 its main naval base in the Philippines in Manila Bay, the British took over the place, which prompted the Spanish military to scout for the next promising naval station. The expedition returned with the good news for the naval command – a natural bounty and deep waters at Subic Bay. King Alfonso II issued a decree in 1884 that declared Subic as “a naval port and the property appertaining thereto set aside for naval purposes.” Construction of an arsenal and ship repair yard ensued March 8 the following year, as ordered by the new settlers’ Naval Commission. Subic Bay’s potential as naval station reached the land of Commodore George Dewey, that in 1898, he and his men engaged in a battle that destroyed the Spanish Army. The star spangled banner found its glory in Subic Bay in December 10, 1899.
In 1902, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, Commander of the Asiatic Stations, directed 200 Marines for an expeditionary force for the first U.S. fleet exercise in Asian waters. Guns were erected on Grande Island and Admiral Evans laid plans for emergency repairs of the station at Subic Bay but was denied assistance by the U.S. Five years later, the U.S. Congress finally appropriated funds for a full-scale Subic Bay Naval Reservation. Words from then President Theodore Roosevelt goes: “If we are to exert the slightest influence in Western Asia, it is of the highest importance that we have a naval station in Subic Bay.” Subic Bay is now on the rise of being one of the best training areas in the Corps. But with the U.S. – Japan tension heating up, appropriations for operation and maintenance of the base fell short. Hawaii came in the scene; funding of the development of Pearl Harbor as US main station in the Pacific earned the thumbs up of the Congress. Subic took its ill fate – a promising harbor was left as a small repair station.
US was drawn into the war in Europe; Filipinos and Americans worked hand in hand to prepare the battleships for World War I. As if that was not enough, workers at Subic Bay also overhauled 26 German ships, that had been used to transport thousands of American troops to Europe. Likewise, this period gave way for different developments: Olongapo had a taste of some of its best years; the base was lined with trees and plants, and several recreational facilities were constructed. But the skies over the Bay were suddenly raining with stick bombs – the Japanese claimed Subic and Olongapo on January 10, 1942, days after the Pearl Harbor attack, bringing with them the devastation of World War II. Many Filipinos and Americans were killed, several buildings were destroyed, seven seaplanes were sunk, and lines of telephones and telegraphs were sabotaged. The Marines were ordered to withdraw into Bataan then soon to Corregidor, burning all buildings left standing after the Japanese attack. Filipinos torched all the war’s ruins in Olongapo. Filipinos have been subjected to the cruelty of the Japanese for three years, after which the American made a forceful rebound and reoccupied the base on January 29, 1945.
World War II
The Marine station underwent massive reconstruction and was again ready for naval endeavors on September 26, 1945. Shortly after the marines resumed their duties, the Tydings-McDuffie Law set provision for Philippine independence and was granted on July 4, 1946. Nonetheless, the US maintained that it would still retain the country’s military bases. The Philippines, acknowledging its frailty in the Cold War, entered into the RP-US Military Bases Agreement on March 14, 1947. The US was granted the right to retain sixteen military bases and to administrate the town of Olongapo. Several significant urbanization projects were orchestrated, but the most challenging was as gigantic as displacing half the part of a 1,200-foot mountain, that needed around 20 million man-hours, and required five years of labor – the exceptional air station and pier construction of the Seabees was the highlight of 1956 in Subic Bay. Another accomplishment at the height of the cold war was ammunition bunkers and buildings that occupied over 12, 400 acres of the Southwestern part of Subic Bay. Set in the tropical rainforest, ammunition and ordinance from these facilities played a big role in the Vietnam War and in the Gulf War of 1991.
The original 1947 military pact between the Philippines and the US has been amended. The year 1979 witnessed a turning point for both countries – Philippines claimed a sovereign rule over the base and the US area of responsibility was reduced from 24,000 hectares to 6, 300 hectares. What followed was a series of events that would change the course of Subic Bay forever. On June 15, 1991, volcanic ashes and debris rained over the base, devastating Subic Bay and neighboring provinces. Mt. Pinatubo’s fury has left the navy and air force no option but to evacuate all their dependents. When Pinatubo’s rage came to a halt, and American and Filipino personnel restored the base, bringing it back to business in no time. Uncertainty continued hovering the Philippine Senate with regard to the termination of the 1947 treaty. Months-long discussions were held; parliamentary proceedings were organized; and a pro-bases rally was staged, but to no avail. September 16, 1991 surfaced a conclusion – The US had to withdraw its forces and equipment from Clark and Subic, having received the rejection of 12 senators on the earlier proposed new treaty. The lowering of the Stars and Stripes followed suit. The Navy bid farewell to America’s nine decades of military presence on Philippine soil.
Surprisingly the departure of the Americans did not spell doom. Subic Bay was converted into a commercial zone largely through the efforts of some 8,000 residents of nearby Olongapo City, under the leadership of their mayor, Richard Gordon, who volunteered to protect and preserve 8 billion dollars worth of facilities and property from looting and destruction. Subic has since been transformed and became a model for bases conversion into commercial use after the Cold War with blue chip companies like Coastal Petroleum, Enron and Fed Ex pumping in over $3 billion of investments creating 70,000 jobs in the free port’s first four years. It was host to the 4th APEC Leaders’ Summit on November 24, 1996 and . FedEx’s Asia-Pacific hub, Asia-One, was also located in Subic Bay for almost ten years..
In addition to commercial use, Subic Bay is also a popular destination for weekend visitors from Metro Manila. Attractions include several beaches, an underwater aquarium, jungle survival tours, racing and duty-free shopping centers