MANILA,  September 29, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo named yesterday presidential adviser Francisco Licuanan as the new chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), a government agency crucial in spurring economic progress in the former US naval base in Zambales and in Central Luzon.

But Licuanan, who replaces Felicito Payumo whose term ends on Oct. 15, will assume office around November and will keep his post as presidential adviser for Subic-Clark development. Licuanan headed one of the country’s top real estate companies, Ayala Land Inc., before joining the government last August.

Alfredo Antonio, who was appointed yesterday as SBMA administrator, will concurrently assume Payumo’s post in an acting capacity until Licuanan takes over. Payumo held both posts concurrently for six years and seven months.

Also appointed yesterday were retired general Jose Calimlim and Filodelfo Rojas Jr. as president of Subic Freeport Services Corp. and chairman of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), respectively.

Calimlim will also be responsible for security at the Subic free port. His appointment was apparently made to curb the reported rampant smuggling at Subic.

Payumo formally informed Mrs. Arroyo last Oct. 15 about his expiring term to give her a free hand in choosing his replacement.

"There will be a smooth turnover this time because I don’t want a repeat of what happened in 1998," Payumo told The STAR in an interview. "There’s no need to shake investor confidence on Subic and destroy what we have built in the past six years."

In 1998, then SBMA chief-now-senator Richard Gordon barricaded himself in his office when he refused to yield his post to Payumo. He questioned Payumo’s appointment by Estrada, arguing that his term was extended by Ramos. Hundreds of SBMA volunteer workers loyal to Gordon surrounded the office building to prevent Payumo from entering.

The impasse ended with a Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for Payumo’s appointment.

Licuanan is Payumo’s former classmate at Harvard Business School. "This is good for both the investors and the free port workers to have a non-politician running the SBMA," Payumo said, referring to Licuanan.

With the country’s trying to stave off a looming fiscal crisis, Licuanan has the huge task of helping the Arroyo administration revitalize the country’s struggling economy by bringing progress to the regions north of Metro Manila.

Mrs. Arroyo said Licuanan is the "best man we could find in the country" for the job. Licuanan was asked to join the government after retiring from Ayala Land.

Appointed in Aug. 18, Licuanan was tasked by Mrs. Arroyo to develop Subic and the former US air base at Clark Field in Pampanga into bustling economic centers and logistics hubs in Southeast Asia — part of Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-point plan to ease the wrenching poverty in the country. — With Bebot Sison Jr., Ding Cervantes

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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