THE OLONGAPO STORY
July 28, 1953 - Bamboo Breeze - Vol.6, No.3
Present day Olongapo sprawls across a vast area of uneven low lands, hemmed in by deep, menacing jungles and tall Zambales mountains which form a green contrasting background for the town's gray, dusty streets and low, squat buildings.
Viewed from its northern hillsides, Olongapo presents a lazy panorama of a typical Philippine town: its sturdy wooden houses grouped together in blocks; its main road stretched out like a ribbon across the town; sluggish rivers that divide the area in barrio districts; and its famous bay that breaks the circle of mountains seeking to embrace the whole town completely--all these give Olongapo an impression of contented conventionality.
Olongapo however is not a conventional community nor a typical town. Politically speaking, it is not even a town. For while a regular town or municipality would elects its own officers to administer its laws and ordinances, in Olongapo there is a Town Council, composed of Olongapo residents, some elected and some appointed to the Council, headed by a Reservation Officer who is appointed by the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Station. The Reservation Officers acts as the town mayor and represents the U. S. Naval Station in Olongapo.
Community of Contrasts
Olongapo is a community of contrasts. Behind the thin veneer of pseudo-cosmopolitan and Navy influences, its core remains predominantly provincial. Along its main highways new commercial establishment--strategically deployed to take in as much trade as possible--stand side by side with residential houses which seem to ignore all the business and the town's traffic. In spite of the thriving bars and nightclubs, Olongapo remains, relatively, a quiet town. And while its citizens could be blase about the capers of the American sailor at the local night spots, his presence at a private party in a Filipino home is, surprisingly, a thing of constant wonder and a topic of conversation among the other guests.
The Reservation is perhaps the most unique community in the country. It is the only place where the American and Philippine flags are flown in front of public buildings; it is the only place where a driver needs two--in some cases, three--driver's licenses.
Like most Philippine towns, Olongapo has its share of legends and folk tales. The stories of how Olongapo got its name range from the grisly bizarre to the downright hilarious. Three versions have persistently turned up whenever the subject is discussed. The first relates the story of the old man's head.
Old Man's Head
There lived in these parts, a long, long time ago, as the story goes, an old rich man, Olongapo was then a vast rice field and this old man owned every square inch of the land. Gentle and generous as he was, this old man was respected and loved by all. One day, the people noticed that the old man was missing. This was strange since it was his custom to be up and around, especially during harvest season. After missing him for three days, the people really became apprehensive and the fate of the old man became the talk of the town. His disappearance remained unexplained, but still a greater mystery was the appearance of the old man's body was never recovered and from then on, the residents of the village referred to the place as Olongapo--"Ulo ng Apo," which means "old man's head" in Tagalog.
Another version relates that Olongapo is really the Spanish corrupt pronunciation of another Tagalog phrase: "Hulo na apo." It seemed that a Spanish officer asked a native for the name of the place. The fellow, misunderstanding the Spaniard, replied: "Hulo, na Apo," which meant, "There is nothing beyond, sir, "referring to the fact that Olongapo was the 1st place there is at this point of the province.
Still other people believe that Olongapo means "Hulo ng Apo"--the Chief's Home. They contend that in ancient times Olongapo was the home of a powerful tribal chieftain. Whichever is the real legend is a matter of conjecture. The fact stands that Olongapo had always been a maritime town.
Before Olongapo became involved in its present naval activities, it was just a little village with no more than a few hundred inhabitants who contendedly engaged in their small fishing and farming industries. The hardy residents were mainly simple folks unconcerned with what happened beyond their community. Because Olongapo was almost completely isolated from the rest of the province by the Zambales mountains, the place remained insignificant and unknown. Olongapo had not sort of major industry to speak of; no roads to connect it with the other towns--the only way to reach it was by boats; it was just like so many inaccessible barrios of the time.
In 1868 however Olongapo was awakened from its lethargy. The Spanish government decided to establish a navy yard and because of its fine natural harbor and water depths, Olongapo became an ideal site. Within ten years, the Spaniards had erected walls and markers to fence off the arsenal--as they called the base then--from the civilian community. The Spanish Navy Yard occupied the entire area east of the Spanish Gate. Employing Filipino labor, they dredged the area and filled in low spots. They had shops and buildings erected. The Spanish government spent almost three decades developing the Naval Station. In 1898, when the construction of the Spanish Administration Building was hardly completed, a detachment of Admiral Dewey's fleet bombarded the Navy Yard. Eventually, after the surrender, Spain relinquished all her rights in the Philippines to the United States. This marked the end of more than three hundred years of Castilian rule over the islands.
Realizing the tremendous importance of Olongapo as a naval facility, the U. S. Navy decided to keep the base in functioning order. So the President of the United States, then Theodore Roosevelt, on 9 November 1901 by executive order, reserved the waters of Subic and some of the adjacent lands for naval purposes.
Naval Station Expanded
The Naval Station was widened and with the establishment of the American rule in the Philippines, American defenses in the islands were facilities left by the Spanish Navy were taken over by the United States. (Some buildings erected by the Spaniards are still in use at present. Shop 31 is built on the skeleton of the Spanish Administration Building which suffered heavy damage under enemy fire during the Japanese invasion and the Philippine liberation.)
Olongapo grew in direct proportion to the growth of the Naval Station. More people came to live in Olongapo since the Navy offered employment. To most Filipinos during that time, it was a welcome change. The promise of a different kind of experience as shop workers and office help induced many young men to leave their farms and fishing boats to work in the Navy Yard. Others finding the lure of the sea irresistible joined the U. S. Navy and really saw the world.
About the year 1908, the Station Intelligence Officer, a member of the U. S. Marine Corps, was charged with the responsibility of the administrative control of Olongapo. He was in this capacity acting as mayor, judge, and police officer! To defray the costs of running his municipal government, and to pay salaries of the civilian clerks who worked under him, he initiated a charge, ten centavos, for the identification card which residents of Olongapo were required to have. With the growth of Olongapo, the naval authorities established a well planned town site which provided for all the attendant conveniences of a modern town; paved streets, sidewalks, concrete gutters, fire department, schools, hospitals and other municipal projects.
Charge Identification Cards
Identification cards were subsequently increased to meet municipal expenses. Besides that, every able bodied male citizen who was granted a land occupancy permit was required to donate four days free labor to Olongapo or to pay a "waiver fee" in the amount of 3.20 pesos which was later increased to four pesos. ( This donation of free labor was established during the Spanish regime when the government exacted some amount of work from all the residents in a community to maintain its construction projects.)
In 1925, the provincial government constructed a hard-surface road cutting across the mountains that surrounds Olongapo and for the first time motor travel between Olongapo and the rest of the province was possible. The highway was named Manila Avenue because it was the road to the capital city. Soon Olongapo became a business center. Since new employment vacancies were opened to Filipinos at the Navy Yard, the influx of people in Olongapo was greater than ever. Business establishments sprang up to meet the demands of the population--meet significant of which were the establishment of hotels, bars and night clubs, which in the Philippines could be found only in cities.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Olongapo had a total population of 5,000. (Olongapo today numbers 25,000 inhabitants.) A great majority of the male inhabitants were employed in the U.S. Navy. The old Olongapo town has a compact, clean and cheerful place. The people were comparatively prosperous and considered living in Olongapo a great advantage and an honor as well. And no wonder! For Olongapo enjoyed all the comforts of a modern community: fire protection system; electric plant and drainage system,; Its civic improvements included a spacious market, public elementary and high schools and a hospital, adequate enough to serve the needs of the town.
No domestic animals roamed the streets of Olongapo before the war. All families who wanted to raise pigs were required to bring them to Wawa--the place by the foot of Kalaklan Bridge-- where the town maintained a sort of pig farm. All dogs in Olongapo wore muzzles then; all carabaos were confined in the farm districts of Bajac-bajac and Tapinac. The Marines detailed as police officers and sanitary inspectors used to go around early in the morning, knocking at people's doors to remind them that their house surroundings should be cleaned.
When the fleet was in, there was usually a curfew hour for Olongapo women and by six o'clock in the evening, no decent, self-respecting girl dared to venture out in the streets.
Prewar Olongapo impressed its visitors as being one of the finest communities in the country. People passing though the town never failed to comment on its cleanliness and orderliness.
When the war broke out in 1941, the old town was obliterated. Olongapo had to suffer the brunt of destruction twice. When the American forces made a last ditch stand on the Bataan peninsula, the Naval Station was abandoned and most of its facilities were burned before the Japanese came. In 1945, Olongapo was again bombed, shelled and burned. None of its former landmarks--with the exceptions of the Station Chapel (it was the Olongapo Parish Church before the war) and the Spanish Gate--with stood the sweep of the war's fury.
Shortly after the war was over, the Philippines was granted her independence. Olongapo was one of the principal navy bases retained by the United States.
The Navy started to rebuild the town right after the hostilities ceased. Olongapo however was built on a new completely undeveloped site a couple of miles north of its former site. The prewar town site became a part of the Naval Station.
Reconstruction and Rehabilitation
This period of reconstruction and rehabilitation created a great demand for workers and thousands poured into Olongapo to fill in the various positions offered by the Navy.
The first few years after the war were extremely hard on the new town. Starting from scratch, everything in the new Olongapo was in a deplorable state. There was no electric power and no drainage system. The water supply and sanitation facilities were inadequate. Olongapo streets were unpaved--they were dusty during the dry season and were stretches of mud and slush when the rains came.
Gradually Olongapo evolved into a better community: new business concerns were established; housing projects were planned, civic facilities were restored. Although the town has still along way to go, if it is to duplicate its prewar standards, Olongapo at the present point has a very bright outlook. The Reservation has been fortunate to have sympathetic and under and understanding administrators. The development of the Reservation has been particularly rapid during the past two years. The new building constructions recently undertaken by the Reservation include: a new ice plant, a high school, two elementary schools, two bridges, and a public library. Two housing projects at Kalaklan and Saluysoy areas are at present being developed. Within a couple of months, the Reservation plans to start laying down a new set of water main lines to replaced the obsolete lines set up in 1908.
Spearheading his improve-Olongapo-drive is the Reservation Officer, Lieutenant-Commander H. H. Hartman. LCDR Hartman has a two fold job: As the representative of the Commanding Officer, it is his duty to keep a working system by which Navy interests in Olongapo can be best maintained; as the town administrator, it is his job--together with the Olongapo Town Council to analyze and remedy the needs of the Reservation. LCDR Hartman has been adjudged by the Reservation residents as one of the most progressive Reservation Officer that Olongapo ever had. In discharging his duties, LCDR Hartman counts on the capable assistance of Ensign J.. M. Garcia, Assistant Reservation Officer and Mr. Segundo Domingo, Administrative Assistant.
Pleasant-faced and hard-working ENS Garcia is considered to be one of the best things that has happened to bolster the Philippine American friendship. The fact alone that ENS Garcia can pronounce the Filipino names with proper accent have done a great deal to promote Navy and civilian cordial relations.
Mr. Segundo Domingo is an Olongapo old-timer who started out as an ordinary clerk in the Reservation Office in 1928. Mr. Domingo has held a various succession jobs until he became Administrative Assistant.
The residents of Olongapo are today, more than ever, conscious of their civic duties. Public works employees devote part of their time to the Reservation. Together with some American civilians, like Mr. George Fedor, and the SeaBees, they are going out of their way in constructing schoolhouses, filling in low areas and widening streets, without any compensation what so ever except perhaps the satisfaction of doing something to make Olongapo a better place to live.
Olongapo today stands as a symbol of Philippine-American harmony--a picture of democracy in action. In transplanting a piece of the American mainland at the Naval Station here, the U.S. Navy has not found an entirely alien land--the typography might be different, the temperature might be a bit higher, but the Americans here have also found a friendly people, people who like them, believe in the rights of the common man. There in lies their common bond and that is the story of Olongapo. It is not only the Reservation's story, but the story of the Navy's success in diplomatic and human relations as well.