Nine US Navy ships scheduled to arrive here this month until December have decided to cancel their port calls due to “anti-American sentiments” in the country after a US Marine was implicated in the slaying of a Filipino transgender in Olongapo City last month, a group of business owners said.
The Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC) said the cancellation disappointed local businessmen, who had been preparing for the “liberty” (rest and recreation) of American troops.
“This anticipated visit could have meant a better Christmas for the business owners and their employees…. But after the cancellation, one can only imagine the disappointed faces,” the SBFCC said in a statement sent to the Inquirer on Sunday.
The US Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday night couldn’t immediately confirm the cancellation of the port calls by the nine US Navy ships in Subic.
Kurt Hoyer, US Embassy first secretary and press attaché, told the Inquirer that he still had to check the information.
In a separate phone interview, DFA spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose also said he had to verify whether the department had information about the cancellation of the port calls.
However, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chair Roberto Garcia confirmed the cancellation of the port calls.
Citing a report from Global Terminals and Development Inc., which operates ports here and provides service to US Navy ships, Garcia on Sunday said four ships were supposed to visit this free port this month while five were expected in December.
Garcia said the port visits were “put on hold until further notice.”
But he said two US Navy ships—USS Pecos and USNS Mary Sears—were scheduled to arrive here next week for emergency repairs.
The SBFCC said the death of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude not only caused a social and political impact, “but an economic chain reaction as well.”
Laude was found dead in a motel in Olongapo City on the night of Octpber 11, a few minutes after her American companion left.
Her companion, who was later identified by witnesses as US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, is facing a murder complaint filed by Laude’s family in the Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office.
Pemberton is held in a detention facility jointly managed by the American and Philippine governments at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
The SBFCC said it sympathised with the Laude family and had joined calls that justice be served.
But Laude’s death, it said, brought about losses and unrealised income for many establishments in the Subic Bay area.
“On the other side of things, businesses in the city and in the bay [area] are also restless. But more than being twitchy, these businesses are suffering,” the statement said.
It said businessmen here found it unfair that there was an impression that people in this free port and nearby Olongapo City were not receptive to visits by US troops.
“We also want the US Navy to know that they are still welcome to visit Subic Bay and enjoy the culture and beauty of our natural flora and fauna, and the festivities that we offer,” the SBFCC said.–With a report from Christine O. Avendaño in Manila