Subic’s luxe villas: Apec leaders rested here ever so briefly
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—“Have you ever dreamed of spending just one night in a million-dollar mansion?” reads an online advertisement of the property developer that built the 21 luxury houses in the Subic Bay Freeport called the Apec Villas.
Eighteen Asia-Pacific heads of governments and states did not have to dream it. Nineteen years ago, they actually stayed in the million-dollar villas, though they may have used the grand houses just to “freshen up” and rest for a bit.
The world leaders were in the country in November 1996 for the Philippines’ first hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit and the villas became their one-day-only official residences during the event.
US President Bill Clinton, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the late Indonesian President Suharto and the heads of the rest of the 18 Apec member economies were billeted in these villas described as “ultraluxurious,” “overly expensive” and an “ambitious housing project.”
For less than 12 hours, the world leaders stayed in the Mediterranean-style, two-story villas that feature tile roofs, huge bedrooms, expensive interiors and large balconies with panoramic sea views.
Cost $1-$2 million each
According to media reports, the construction of the exclusive residences had cost between $1 million and $2 million each. They were built by the Financial Building (Subic Bay) Corp. (FBSC) during the administration of President Fidel Ramos and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chair Richard Gordon.
Built in a secluded cove known as Triboa Bay, the Apec Villas are semienclosed by lush forests inside this former US naval base in Zambales province. The group of 21 villas stand on a 13-hectare beachfront land that was once dotted by magazines, or the armored bunkers that served as camouflaged storehouses for US Navy ammunition.
Demolishing the bunkers was one of the most time-consuming phase of the eight-month construction to finish the villas in time for the Apec summit in late November 1996.
Citing accounts of FBSC officials, contemporary media reports said the construction employed about 4,000 workers in two shifts to meet the tight deadline to complete the project.
On Nov. 24, 1996, Subic successfully hosted the summit of 18 Apec leaders. Several group photos of the Apec leaders, each wearing a barong Tagalog (traditional Filipino formal wear) with the Triboa Bay in the background, have become iconic.
Despite the country’s success in hosting the Apec leaders’ summit, the event did not proceed or end without controversy. The Ramos government was severely criticized for the huge amounts it allegedly spent for the villas’ construction.
Ramos’ successor, deposed President Joseph Estrada ordered an investigation in 1999, saying he suspected that government funds were used for the construction of the villas. Estrada said there were allegations that the villas were built through loan guarantees from the state-run Home Guaranty Corp. (HGC).
Some government financing institutions, like Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines, were also supposedly tapped by the project’s private developer.
Villas all sold
The government did not pay FBSC for the construction of the Apec Villas as the firm was allowed to lease out the houses on a long-term basis to recover its investments and repay its loans. The developer eventually sold the villas after the event.
The FBSC has, however, failed to meet its loan obligations. Since 1999, the firm has been in talks with the SBMA on how to restructure its obligations to the agency. The developer eventually sold the villas after the event.
According to SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia, “the FBSC was guaranteed by HGC, which took over and assumed the liabilities of the developer.”
Garcia said the Apec villas have all been sold.
“All of these were sold already to second- and third-party homeowners. One of the villas, the Villa 2, is damaged and is being repaired,” Garcia said in an interview.
He said the SBMA earned from the Apec Villas only through the transfer fees for every villa sold to a third party. He said the SBMA earns about 10 percent of the transfer fees.
But he could not say how much these transfer fees were, noting that this would depend on the number of years left on the lease.
Over the years, most of the villas have undergone renovations and are now under the management of Triboa Bay Country Club, Garcia said.
Kenneth Rementilla, manager of the SBMA Business and Investment Department for Leisure, said the agency is the “landlord” of all the properties inside the free port.
“For the Apec Villas, the FBSC, as the lessee, got a 50-year lease from the SBMA,” he said.
After the Apec summit in 1996, the FBSC offered the villas for long-term lease to private individuals. One of the villas, he said, has been allotted to the SBMA chair and administrator.
A source from the Triboa Bay Country Club said all 21 villas are “fully functional” and are either occupied by private owners or available for short- or long-term lease.
The source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said several villas are being renovated to accommodate a visiting high-ranking Taiwanese official.
One villa, the source said, is being rented out for P20,000 a night.
Fast Facts: 1996 Apec Summit
1996—The Philippines hosted the Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting for the first time. The meetings were held in Manila, Zambales, Cebu and Davao.
18—The number of member-economies that participated in the 1996 Apec meetings.
Nov. 25—Last day of the Apec summit held in Subic, where then President Fidel Ramos read out the leaders’ declaration, “From Vision to Action.” The declaration outlined the accomplishments of the summit and the implementation of the initiatives for the succeeding years.
Jan. 1, 1997—Implementing date of the initiatives reached in the 1996 summit such as carrying out the Manila Action Plan for Apec 1996, strengthening economic and technical cooperation and engaging the private sector
2020—Target year when free trade would be achieved among Apec members, as stated in the Manila Action Plan for Apec 1996
11—The number of economies that sought admission to Apec during the 1996 meetings. These are Ecuador, Pakistan, Panama, Macau, Peru, Russia, India, Pakistan, Columbia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
1989—The year 12 Asia-Pacific economies first met to establish Apec in Canberra, Australia. Inquirer Research
Sources: Apec.org, Inquirer Archives
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