By HENRY EMPEÑO
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — It’s work as usual here at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) even as officials and employees alike awaited word from Malacañang to resolve the leadership squabble pitting the SBMA head of agency against the chief executive officer.
On Monday, as SBMA Administrator & CEO Wilma Eisma announced during the flag-raising ceremony that the much-awaited performance-based bonus would be released soon, employees wondered aloud if there was already a verdict from President Duterte—one that would end once and for all the disagreement between Eisma and SBMA Chairman Martin Diño.
“We are hoping that President Duterte would decide soon on who will head the SBMA. But between Chairman Diño and Administrator Eisma, we still have no idea who is going to stay,” said Dominica Cañeda, a utility worker from Morong, Bataan, who works at the agency’s Building 255 office.
Asked who she wanted to see at the helm of the Subic agency, Cañeda replied with her list of qualifications: “One who is a capable manager, who can attract more investments into Subic, and who really cares for the SBMA and the free port.”
The leadership tussle between Diño and Eisma, both appointed by President Duterte, stemmed from Diño’s issuance last May of Administrative Order 01-2017 that sought to create an oversight task force task force under his office. The issuance of an AO was seen to be encroaching upon the duties of the administrator, while the task force he sought to create was perceived as infringing on the SBMA board’s oversight functions.
The ensuing conflict triggered an investigation by the House of Representatives on Executive Order No. 340, which separated the position and functions of the SBMA chairman from that of the SBMA administrator, and led business locators in the Subic Freeport to urge Malacañang to appoint one capable administrator-chairman to lead the SBMA.
Despite the waiting, the agency’s day-to-day affairs are not much affected, according to agency officials. Eisma herself revealed that she even went to Taiwan the other week to make a pitch for the Philippine government at the Philippine Investment Promotion Plan (PIPP) Investment Roadshow in Taipei and Taichung City.
“Despite the leadership issue here, the SBMA has, in fact, been doing well,” Eisma said. “So well, perhaps, that even Chairman Diño, who has been criticizing the SBMA and describing it as on the verge of financial collapse, had lately announced to the media our accomplishments in terms of revenue, investments, jobs, exports, and other economic indicators.”
The lady CEO also said that despite the uncertainty of her retaining the SBMA post, she has faith that President Duterte’s decision will be for the best of the Subic agency.
“If it’s Chairman Diño who’d be chosen, then I’ll gladly go quietly into the night, so to speak, because after all I’m just here to serve Subic, which is my home and the home of my fellow volunteers,” she said.
“On the other hand, if President Duterte chooses me to stay, then he can be sure that I’d give the best of what I learned and experienced in the private sector to bring the SBMA and the Subic Freeport to their rightful place as catalysts of economic development and inclusive growth in the community,” Eisma added.
Amethya Dela Llana, manager of the SBMA Ecology Center, said the issue has effects far deeper than a simple replacement of personalities. She warned that the squabble would eventually affect the investment climate in Subic and jeopardize the billion-dollar economy that the agency and its workers have built over the years.
“That is why this conflict cannot be allowed go on indefinitely. President Duterte has to decide soon because SBMA’s business cannot wait,” Dela Llana told Business Mirror on Monday.
“We implore the President to not just appoint one administrator who will also be the chairman as mandated by the law, but to name somebody who will be able to manage the SBMA and the Subic Bay Freeport professionally and effectively. This qualification is very important,” she added.