In 2005, I made a conscious decision to move to the Philippines permanently. It wasn’t until after I arrived in April of 2006 that I decided to make Olongapo City my home. Many factors led up to both decisions, some of which are too personal to write about. Here’s a little history for you.
The Rebirth of the Philippines and then Olongapo City
After the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the Philippines was granted independence from the US on July 4, 1946. The Philippines recognizes and celebrates the earlier Independence Day of June 12, 1898, when Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence after the Spanish-American war.
Unlike the rest of the Philippines, Olongapo City continued to be governed as a part of the US naval reservation until the lobbying efforts of James Gordon (half American-half Filipino) resulted in it being turned over to the Philippine government and converted into a municipality on December 7, 1959. Mayor James Gordon succeeded in having it reconverted to a chartered city on June 1, 1966, which administers itself autonomously from the Zambales province.
1992 was another rebirth of sorts. After the treaty for the Subic Bay Naval Station ran out, the son of the previous mayor and mayor at the time, Richard Gordon, succeeded in getting the land turned into the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Shortly thereafter, most of the places that catered to the service members closed down, causing a severe impact on the local economy. It wasn’t as severe as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, which left 14 inches of wet ash on the city, but the city recovered from the eruption much more quickly than from the loss of jobs the base provided when it closed in 1992.
Since that time, new businesses both in Olongapo City and at the freeport zone have sprung up and the economy is better now than it was before, at least in my opinion.
Olongapo City is broken down into 17 administrative subdivisions called barangays, the smallest of the subdivisions in the country. Formerly known as barrios (from the Spanish history, and some areas are still called that), it’s the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward.
I live in the barangay of Santa Rita. I can’t tell you how big the barangay is, or even how big the city is, because there are no local maps [edit: found some in 2011]. When I was here in the 1980s, the real population of the city was estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 people. As of the 2000 census, there were around 200,000 people and there could be more than 300,000 by 2010.
My wife and I bought the lot next to the lot we live on now back in 1987. My parents-in-law and her siblings moved there. In 2004 or 2005, I forget, we bought this lot. Our original intention was just to own it to prevent anyone else from building between the creek and their houses. In 2006, we built our house on this lot.