All’s well in Subic Freeport despite marine theme park row

By Henry Empeño

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Tourists planning to visit the Subic Bay Freeport this summer need not worry about their safety despite the management rift at Ocean Adventure, a popular tourist attraction here that was beset by at least two standoffs in the last two months that needed the intervention of the police.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Administrator Wilma Amy T. Eisma on Thursday assured the public of their safety in the free port, saying the recent incident at the marine park was an isolated case.

“Subic Bay Freeport is not Ocean Adventure only,” Eisma said in a statement. “There’s a lot more at the Subic Bay Freeport for everybody to appreciate and enjoy. There are lots of things to do here in Subic Bay,” she added.

Eisma issued the announcement as the Subic authority prepared for the upcoming Holy Week, which traditionally brings in thousands of visitors to the Subic Bay Freeport, as well as the nearby vacation communities in Olongapo City and Zambales.

The SBMA said last week that aside from the Lenten activities like the “Pabasa,” which is the reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ, and “Salubong,”which re-enacts the Risen Christ’s meeting with His mother, some secular events like an animal parade, musical concert and food shops will be featured in the free port during the Holy Week.

Eisma said the image of Subic as a visitor-friendly place had somewhat been affected by the recent incidents at Ocean Adventure that involved the use by opposing parties of “undue force in resolving their intra-corporate dispute.”

“The image of the Subic Bay Freeport is being dragged down because it paints a bad picture of what Subic Bay Freeport is very well-known for – a safe tourist destination,” the SBMA official added.

wendy release2

Guests at the Camayan Beach Resort watch the release of Wendy, a pawikan that was nursed back to health after being rescued with a fishhook stuck in its throat and a wounded right flipper.

An official statement from the Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), the company managing Ocean Adventure, indicated that on February 13, then SBMEI president and chief executive officer Arthur Tai was ousted by the firm’s co-founder Scott Sharpe following a decision by majority shareholders to have Sharpe take over as chairman and president.

The same SBMEI statement said that Tai was removed from his post due to “breach of trust and loss of confidence.”

On April 3, however, a group of employees supportive of Tai came back to oust Sharpe, reportedly damaging properties in the process and causing potential harm to animals at the ocean park.

The April 3 standoff only ended when SBMA officials, with the help of the agency’s Law Enforcement Department and the Philippine National Police, arrived to head off the confrontation.

Eisma said the SBMA had condemned such actions, adding that she had endorsed to the SBMA board of directors “that we have to file an action with the courts, possibly, an interpleader to ask the court to resolve this because we cannot let the Freeport suffer.”

As of now, Ocean Adventure is reportedly back in business, with the management opting to highlight positive events like the release of Wendy, a rescued green sea turtle nursed back to health by the firm’s animal care team, and the formal launch of the swimming pool at the Camayan Beach Resort, which is also owned by SBMEI.

“It’s now business as usual for the park and the resort because normalcy has been restored in the area,” said Robert Gonzaga, SBMEI corporate communications director.

Gonzaga added that guests at both Ocean Adventure and Camayan Beach resort “can look forward to participating in summer events like kayaking, scuba diving or going for a bay cruise.”

James Arbizo, manager of Camayan Beach Resort, said that “Everything that we’re doing is part of the current management’ s efforts to provide great experiences for our guests and clients. This is just the beginning.”

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