Port of Subic Bay
Review and History

The Port of Subic Bay lies on the eastern shores of the bay off the China Sea in southwestern Luzon on the main island of the Philippines. About 82 kilometers northwest of Manila, the Port of Subic Bay is separated from Manila by the Manila Bay and the Bataan Peninsula. Before it was a commercial port, the Port of Subic Bay was occupied by the United States’ Subic Bay Naval Station, the largest in the Philippines. Mountain ranges surround Subic Bay, and the Port of Subic Bay provides a natural deep-water harbor that is protected from typhoons. The population living at the Subic Bay Freeport is about 3000 souls, and it is adjacent to Olongapo City where over 195 thousand people live.

The Port of Subic Bay is the country’s first free port, and it is critically important to the Philippine economy. It is home to over 700 investment projects like Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (Korean), the world’s fourth-largest ship-building facility. Today, the Subic Bay Port Development Project is upgrading the port to become part of the Subic-Clark Corridor based around the 45-kilometer long Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway. The Port of Subic Bay is becoming part of one of the most competitive international shipping services in Southeast Asia.

Port History

Before the Spanish arrived at the Port of Subic Bay, the people who had lived there for centuries fished rich waters of the South China Sea and hunted wild pigs, birds, and carabao that lived in the jungles around the bay. Their small village was called Olongapo, and it is still a viable community about five kilometers northeast of the Port of Subic Bay.

In 1572, Juan de Salcedo came to Olongapo and Subic Bay to collect tribute for Spain’s King Philip II. While the native were not happy about the situation, they could not resist Spanish guns and warships. When he took the tribute back to Manila, de Salcedo reported that the Bay was deep and perfect to shelter ships. Note, not action, was taken.

In 1885, the Spanish began to build the Arsenal at the Port of Subic Bay’s Olongapo with native labor to protect their interests in the Philippines against insurrection. They dredged the harbor and inner basin, built a canal to drain the swamp for a defensive line, and built a bridge that survives today. Three gunboats were assigned to the Arsenal. The Spanish navy used the Port of Subic Bay to protect their control over their Philippines colony.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War began, and Spain’s hold on the Philippines was doomed. The Spanish commander moved the fleet to the strategically-safer Port of Subic Bay; however, when the American ships arrived with Commodore George C. Dewey, the Spanish offered no resistance. The Treaty of Paris ended the war and also ended any hope of Philippine independence. The US Navy fought against Filipino revolutionaries as the Spanish had.

Taking possession of Port of Subic Bay, it immediately became an important point for feeding and fueling the US fleet. The US maintained positive relationships with the locals, and the town of Olongapo began to grow despite the fact that it was only accessible by sea. No roads connected Olongapo to the rest of the island.

The development of the towns of Subic and Olongapo followed the development of the US Navy base at the Port of Subic Bay. At one time, it was the US’ biggest naval base in Asia. It continued to be an important naval facility until 1991.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate decided not to renew the lease on the US naval base at the Port of Subic Bay. The US Navy had already started down-sizing its operations when Mount

Pinatubo (about 36 kilometers north of the Port of Subic Bay) presented one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the previous century. The Navy base was covered in ash, and several structures collapsed. The USS Belleau was the last US ship to leave the Port of Subic Bay in late 1992. 

Upon the Americans’ departure, the Port of Subic Bay was converted into commercial use, mainly through the efforts of the residents of Olongapo City and its mayor. Since then, the Port of Subic Bay has become a model for the conversion of military bases to commercial use. Many blue chip companies have invested billions of dollars, creating 70 thousand jobs in the Port of Subic Bay in its first four years. The Port of Subic Bay hosted the APEC Leaders’ Summit in 1996.

The Port of Subic Bay is not just a commercial enterprise. Subic Bay is a popular vacation spot for residents of Manila who come to enjoy the beaches, visit the underwater aquarium, take jungle survival tours, or shop at the duty-free shopping centers.

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