Old Spanish Gate at Subic

It was early morning on January 8, 2012 when the author woke-up  at past 4:30am . The first instinct was to close the air-conditioning  unit , since it was rather cold . Then the alarm clock of Mr. Anthony Arbias finally set the tone for everyone to wake -up.

Subic bay early morning

The group was delighted by the early morning breakfast which consists of rice, corned beef , fish , scramble eggs  accompanied by hot pandesal and hot coffee .

welcome arch to  Subic

After the breakfast buffet meal, the group quickly set up for the next leg of the Olongapo -Subic tour . the group went to the main gate of the former Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and meet  Mr. Mr. Alex Mesia and Engineer Ricardo A. Alcantara Jr.  our guides who were already patiently waiting for our group .

History :

Explorer Juan de Salcedo reported its existence to the Spanish authorities upon his return to Manila after Salcedo arrived in Zambales to establish the Spanish crown but it would be a number of years before the Spanish would consider establishing a base there.

Although there is already a naval base in the province of Cavite during the Spanish occupation, Most of the workers suffered from unhealthy living conditions and was vulnerable in time of war and bad weather because of its shallow water and lack of shelter. Because of these, a military expedition was sent to Subic Bay in 1868 with orders to survey the bay to find out if it would be a suitable site for a naval yard. The Spanish explored the entire bay and concluded that it had much promise and thus reported their findings to Cavite.

This report was not well-accepted in Manila as the Spanish command was reluctant to move to the provincial isolation of Subic. Finally, in 1884, a Royal Decree declared Subic Bay as a naval port.

Old West Gate, which the Americans  called the Spanish Gate, as the main gate to the station for many years. Behind the Spanish Gate was a little Marine Cemetery.  The Gate was also used as a jail by both the Spanish and Americans.

West Gate circa 2012

Beside the West Gate ruin lies a replica of the Spanish gate with modern cement and painted in pastel color – the former Spanish Gate KTV Restaurant is just a few steps away from the old fort.

Spanish Gate Restaurant

Unfortunately the KTV restaurant is for rent ,  tourism in the area had slowed a bit  and  there were countless of restaurants, bars , grocery , business ventures and even first class hotels had already stopped their operation.

There was a boom in business during the American stay  and when Mayor Richard Gordon took over  in 1992.

Mc. Kinley street signage with Chinese character below

Proof of the  business and tourism  boom are the bi-lingual street signage which also had Chinese characters written below . The tourist guides initially thought that the characters were Korean .  They quickly reiterated that there were a lot of Taiwanese and even Hong Kong tourists especially in the early 1990’s .

compound of shipyard building equipment

At present , there were a wave of Korean expats which make the  area as their second home . Most of the Koreans are investors from nearby Hanjin shipyard , students  and tourists.

Boardwalk Inn
Boardwalk Inn and Restaurant is one of the highly recognizable hotel facilities within the Central Business District of Subic Bay Freeport Zone. This simple yet very cozy  hotel  features a dive center, which is perfect for people who really love the great outdoors, especially aqua sports and other recreational activities. It offers scuba diving tutorials, advanced diving lessons, and other valuable information that people need to learn this super fun and exciting activity.

Bldg 664 Waterfront Road, Subic Bay Freeport Zone , Philippines

 Contact information: Mobile phone number 0910-3609771. People can contact  via the land-line number (047)-252-2894, or through the alternative phone line (047)-252-2893.

 Visit their website

beach front

 The Subic sea front  area had a  wide variety of resort amenities and activities are planned within the community and designed to offer a wide range of social, cultural , recreational and bird watching experiences for visitors and residents.

This boat shape stage serves its purpose during important event

 play ground with anti-littering poster

Compared to major towns and cities across the country , Subic  is indeed an example of a city which strictly imposes its anti-littering campaign with scores of residents and even tourists apprehended for violating  this simple rule.

beach front is a favorite promenade area for joggers, tourists  and hawkers 

         Subic Bay Gateway Park

Subic Bay Gateway Park (SBGP) is a world-class industrial park offering approximately 300 hectares of prime industrial land and is host to about 80 direct locators and 60 plus sub-lessees. SBGP’s development is divided into three phases. Phase I is already operational and is 98% leased. Phase II is still being developed and is already 42% leased out.

Website: http://www.sbdmc.com/

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority logo

Website : http://www.sbma.com/

Sources:   Laurel , Tiu Herman ,  The Olongapo  Colonial Experience


Olongapo – Cliff Royale tour 2

This is the other facilities and collections encountered by the author during the stay at the Cliff Royale Resort  in Olongapo.

 rows of cottage ideal for picnic and a place to relax and have a panoramic view of Subic Bay

The Cliff Resort is situated atop a cliff in  Barangay Barretto, Olongapo. Here, one can enjoy the sea in several ways: from  several  vantage point in the main resort area or up close by brisk walk down a winding path.

ideal place to have a panoramic view of the surrounding sea and mountain

surrounding beach resorts as seen from the top of the Cliff  Royale  resort

I was told that this particular resort  building ( which the resort management used as a restaurant area or function area)  had already encroached the sea frontage, since there is no available beach front .  What  might poses a problem is  during heavy monsoonal rains  or a big typhoon and a  tsunami might destroy this building.  I just browse on Presidential Decree 1067  or the Water Code of the Philippines.

nearby resort buildings

This law prohibits building structures within the easement zone of a seashore, river or stream. Said zone is “subject to the easement of public use” for recreation, navigation, and fishing, among other public activities. The distance is 20 meters for agricultural areas, three meters for urban areas, and 40 meters for timberland.

Please visit the link for more information about this law:


The pavilion had a marble mosaic tiles which was ordered from well-known marble company located in  San Rafael , Bulacan . According to Mrs. Elisa  S. Montecastro , She had to order them ( on her own specification) and the marble tiles were chipped according to the size . The design was pattern after the Arabic floral style which was copied  from one of her foreign trips.

Batibot chair or Tiffany Chair was also custom made by the owner of the resort . But instead of wood, she opted to used rattan . This particular type of chair is very popular in the 1950’s to early 1960’s .

collection of shells

furniture made from old tree trunks

statute of mother and child

one of the cottages which directly faces the Subic Bay

collection of table and chairs

door leading to one of the private rooms within the resort

old lumber made into furniture set

 basket from Benguet

The personal touches of the owner is reflected in the various furniture and ethnic items that is found within the resort compound. The fruit basket from Benguet is said to be more than 50 years old!

bromeliad mounted on a live tree truck

               Asplenium nidus or commonly called pakpak lawin

The resort is also like a botanical haven for plant and nature lover. Its full grown trees , lust foliage and flowering plants adds to the natural charm of the place.

Wood carvings from Paete,Laguna.

For those who are interested in coming to this place, the author highly recommend this resort for their ambiance, collection of various items ( which is like a private  museum )  , horticultural value, picturesque views, friendly  hospitable staffs  and even guests,  fresh foods ,  the best get away in this side of Olongapo !

biko and mochi native delicacies

The group was again treated to another round of afternoon snacks before we left for Manila . The author would thanks Mrs. Elisa S. Montecastro and her family for the warm hospitality and the accommodation that was extended to the entire group.  Maraming maraming Salamat po sa lahat  !


The Cliff Royale at Subic Bay
Km 133, National Hi-Way, Barangay Barretto , Olongapo City, Philippines

Contact Information:

Mrs.Elisa Montecastro
+63-917-8515273 (Globe)
+63-922-8672705 (Sun)
215-7923 (Landline)

Mrs. Victoria Montecastro-Benabaye
+63-906-3089480 (Globe)
+63-932-9899616 (Sun)

Website: thecliffroyale.com/

Great Value For Parties, Social and corporate celebrations, company seminars and functions , location shoot, etc…

  Capacity 100-120 People


Swimming pool with jacuzzi, club houses, picnic area and Beach

Hill 394 Forest Reserve

It was past 9:00 am when the group reach the forest reserve in this side of Subic. According to Engineer Ricardo Alcantara one of out local guides in the area. When the Americans were in control of the area.

Mr. Alexander Mesia showed the trail left by the troop of monkeys

         The forest reserve is usually off-limits to the locals, until 1992 when the area was formally turned-over to the government . Very few groups  were permitted  to visit the reservation . In 2011,  they only allowed two to  three  groups to visit the place .

panoramic view of the surrounding mountain and forest areas from hill 394 summit

Subic’s most popular peak takes you 394 meters  or about 1, 293 feet above sea level and offers a spectacular view of the legendary Mount Natib and Subic Bay, in the northwest.  Hill 394  let its beauty speak for itself. This is a popular area for bird watching, mountain hikers  ,  students of biology and botany .

Concrete ammunition bunkers are found all over the forest reserve , apparently they can easily be mistaken as a small hill , but in a close inspection these are storage places for the ammunition of the Americans.

 ammunition depository bunker during the American stay in Subic now these bunkers are abandoned and swiflets  and  Eurasian tree sparrow or maya-maya  make these bunkers as their second home

According  to our guides , these bunkers are camouflage by the thick forest vegetation and grasses .  There are about 400 to 500 such ammunition bunkers  that were scattered around the former military naval base forest reserve and adjacent area.   The  construction zenith of these hill- shaped depot  happened during the Vietnam war in the mid 1960’s  to early 1970’s . These are multimillion dollar project and a closely guarded military secret of the American naval station .   Some of  the bunkers  are now converted into art galleries or restaurants.

The group first had to get the necessary permits from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority . Here are some of the conditions :

1.) Extreme precaution shall be taken not to cause any disturbance / destruction in the forest , aquatic / marine environment .

2.) Proper waste disposal shall always be observed.

3.) No trails shall be created on forest areas.

4.) Collection of flora and fauna maybe allowed for identification purposes only.

5.) Results of the study can only be used for academic purposes and shall not be published without proper coordination and approval from the office.

forest trail created by the Americans

Normally , the hike going up the trail up to the topmost part will only take between 45 minutes to 1 hour however it took the group almost 2 hours to reach the  hill summit  ( due to initial surveys conducted )

old ficus balete  tree -possibly more than a century -old

The debate among botanist and forest experts would reveal that this is a disturbed lowland forest which means that the forest was already disturbed long time ago from logging (  Americans and Japanese occupation  )  Since it was assumed that the trails were made by the Americans. The topmost portion of the hill was flatten and bulldozed using heavy equipment . Apparently the area was used as a helicopter landing  site during their jungle survival trainings.

summit of hill 394 – notice the lack of natural vegetation and flat terrain

You can see that the area was disturbed and most of the trees are missing .  The area is said to have been used as a forest survival training site intended for jungle survival .  The fallen logs  must have been used by the US military when they were in Subic long time ago.

 group picture

The area that the group visited  , is said to be the extended ancestral domain of the Aeta living in the nearby Zambales area.


* The team saw some plastic bottles and brought them down to our van ( we had to dispose of the plastic bottles properly)  We saw at the trail, apparently the plastic bottles  were from the previous hikers who just left them .

* The group is highly compose of credible people from various environmental NGOs and experts coming from DENR, National Museum, and Academe .

* A  preliminary survey of flora and fauna was done  within the trail areas.

* At the end of the 2 hour trek, the group  surveyed more than 100 species of trees, about 2 dozen birds, 1 orchid species, about half a dozen ferns  and half a dozen aroids  ( along the established trek path ).

* The team  saw tree sapling that are germinated ,  this is a natural way of re-forestation . however there are signs that foreign non-endemic trees  examples are Gemelina , Mahogany , weeds, flowering plants that were naturalized  in this part of Subic.

* Feral population of cats and even rats poses a treat to the local endemic wildlife bird and small mammals .

Subic- Triboa Mangrove Park

Triboa Bay Mangrove Park  is a two hectares  mangrove re-forestation project area that features different attractions that a lot of tourists in the area enjoy.

This destination is easy to find so even those who are new to the   place will not experience difficulties situating it. The park  is now managed by the same group who maintains the Subic Treetop Adventures.

Upon arriving at the park , the group was initially met by the tour guides and quickly brief the group on the history and importance of the place . There are signage which tell the importance of these mangrove areas.

The mangrove areas is also a perfect habitat for fingerlings , mud crabs, mud skippers and we even saw butete or puffer fish .

Mr. Jun Bagat our guide at the Triboa Mangrove Park

We were greeted by Mr. Jun Bagat – an aeta guide  . He also told our group that there are two aeta group classification  from the Zambales region which is divided into  Amianan group which is from the northern part of Zambales and Ambala group which comes the southern area and may even extent to the Tarlac and Pampanga  .

Ficus nota in fruits

He also told the importance of the Ficus nota which they could extract water . The local name of the tree is Tibig / Tebey as pronounced in their local Zambales aeta dialect .

Mangrove tree saplings and a scenic nipa hut

The forest Ecosystem meets the marine ecosystem at this point. The mangroves of Triboa also contains tannin compounds that can be extracted from the barks. Tannin is a soluble substances used in tanning hides and skins that are used in manufacturing leather crafts.

The mangroves re-planting project was just started sometime in 2008 . In this part of the bay,  mangroves saplings  are still young and being revitalized.

gravel filled pathways are planted with bird of the paradise  hybrids

 There are already erected bamboo catwalks and decks for you to enjoy the interesting growth patterns of these high tide-low tide species.

pandanus sp.

Their aerial roots  grow submersed in brackish water, establishing weird root networks.   Mr. Bonifacio Pasion and our tour guide , said that the mangrove species is predominantly Bakawang babae /  female mangrove or Rhizophora macrunota.

Nipa fruticans

This is locally called Nipa , Sasa ,Pawid, Anipa . The nipa palm is considered one of the most important economic crops that strive in the wetlands or brackish water condition . The leaves of the palm is use for thatching nipa huts, leaflets are used for making hats , baskets, raincoats , wrappings for suman, the midribs of the leaves are used for making walis tingting (  stick brooms), the petioles are used for firewood while its  fruits/ flower  are process into wine or vinegar .

group picture

Situated at Ilanin Forest Area in Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Tourists who will be coming from Manila  and Pasay City can ride in buses bound to Zambales or the City of Olongapo to reach the place.

From these destinations, there are a lot of taxis and jeepneys that can transport them directly to the Subic sightseeing spot.

                              Barringtonia acutangula  with inflorescence

The Himbabalod or Putat tree  is known to have curative and folkloric value . The bark to this tree is used of poisoning or baiting the fish .

Barringtonia acutangula  flowers or Putad -Tagalog , Putat – Tagalog, Pampango and Bikol dialect

variegated or mutant ( Calophyllum inophyllum )

This mutant variety if locally known as Bitaog or Bitaoy known to be indigenous from East Africa, Southern coast of India, Malesia to Australasia . This tree is also called ball nut tree. Now widespread in tropical regions of the world. In some areas,  the tree is used for construction of small boats.

Meanwhile, for individuals who will travel in private vehicles should take the San Fernando exit along North Luzon Expressway. From the exit, they will pass thru several towns in the province of Pampanga and Bataan before they reach Subic Bay Freeport Zone Expressway. From the expressways exit, there are signs that instruct people on how to reach the mangrove park.

Contact: (047)- 252-42-42 /252-41-23 /252-40-32

Entrance Fees: Php 250.00 per head inclusive of guided tour  / group discount may be availed

Bamboo groves in Subic

Bamboo thicklets

When our group was driving toward the Subic forest reserve , we saw a lot of bamboo groves dying , Bamboo belong to the family of  grass .  Bamboos are some of the quickest growing plants in the world, some species have been recorded as growing up to 100 cm (39 in) within a 24 hour period due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product.

According to our  field botanist guide there are about  5 species of native erect bamboos.  However , most of the bamboos that the group had encountered in Subic is quickly dying . Why ? They had already started to bloom in the middle part of 2011 and most of the bamboo groves have begun their flowering cycle which according to our local guides may happen between 40 to 60- year intervals. So it was estimated that the last time a bamboo die-off occurred in the Subic area was maybe in the 1960’s  given the 40- year cycle interval.

Bamboo inflorescence and flowers

In China, pandas and local wildlife species which heavily depend their subsistence on bamboos may experience  severe famine and eventually death ! One threat that pandas face is natural: sporadic bamboo die-offs which occur every 40 to 120 years. Bamboo usually reproduces by sending up new shoots, but for reasons not yet understood from time to time the plants flower, seed and then die off en mass.

According to one report , In the 1970s more than 130 pandas died when a species of bamboo found in the Minshan mountains in Sichuan province  flowered and died. In the old days when die offs occurred it was easier for panda’s to simply migrate to an area with more bamboo. But these days their habitats are fragmented and human settlements may block them from reaching bamboo supplies.

Huge bamboo specimen dying -off

In the Subic areas, native buhos also serves as a home for native bats. The aetas  ( natives of the area) also uses the bamboos in many ways from building materials , food , medicine, and even utensils. Bamboos is very important in our daily life that some ethno-botanists and anthropologists say that bamboo plant is just equal in importance to coconut palms.

The rodent and snake population may also increase during the blooming season of the bamboo,  rodents eat bamboo shoots and flowers and thus the gradual increase of their population in the area. This is also the opportunity for the snakes around the vicinity to breed because of the increase of food supply .

fallen bamboo poles

Our group saw  specimens of Schizostachyum bamboo, which is said to be probably bikal or Schizostachyum diffusum according to our  botanist companions.  Some clumps  appeared  to have flowered .  Some are in a state of disarray maybe due to the recent typhoons and heavy monsoon rains that swept the Subic region . We had to be very careful in crossing the bamboo  groves  since the split bamboos may cause injuries , some  dried bamboo  also served as home to countless of insect species such as wasps and ants.

Some of the individual clump  shoots have dried out and were split open.  Majority of them have fallen which is why we saw the structure of the dry flowers. The inflorescence is big but the individual flowers are very small.

After this  die-off , we expect that the seeds would eventually germinate and hopefully – if not disturbed,  these seeds would grow into specimen sized bamboo plants in few years to come.

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