Discovery of the bay

Posted 4 months ago

Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo is credited with the discovery of Subic Bay. In 1542, this grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi– the Spanish explorer who established Spain’s control and dominion over the Philippines –recognized Subic Bay’s tremendous potential as a fine shelter for shipping during a visit to the province of Zambales to establish the Spanish crown.

Spanish Arsenal (Spanish Gate)

It took the British occupation of Manila in 1762 or some 350 years later, however, for Spain to make Subic Bay an operational harbor when the Spanish Fleet had to temporarily transfer from Manila Bay.

The original harbor of the Spanish Fleet in Cavite at that time became more and more difficult to maintain because of its men being frequently afflicted with sickness and its ships becoming increasingly vulnerable due to lack of shelter from storms, strong winds, and enemy fleets.

The Spanish Fleet decided to develop Subic Bay as a port and a harbor after a military survey conducted in 1868 and in 1884, the Spanish King Alfonso II issued a royal decree declaring Subic as “a naval port and the property appertaining thereto set aside for naval purposes.”

The Spanish Fleet, using local labor, dredged the harbor basin, built a drainage canal surrounding the port making an “island” of the Spanish Navy Yard. The canal reduces disease by draining the swampy terrain and also served as a defensive barrier around the base. (The canal still exists surrounding the Subic Bay Freeport, crossed by bridges into Olongapo City).

The locals, working in lieu of tax payments, built several seawalls, causeways and a railway line was constructed over the tidal flats bordering the Navy Yard. These projects required quarrying thousands of tons of dirt and rock from the Kalalake area of Olongapo. (That former quarry area now forms the lagoon at the Bicentennial Park of what is now the Subic Bay Freeport.)

When the Spanish Arsenal was finished, the gunboats Caviteno, the Sta. Ana, and San Quentin were assigned to its defense — complemented by gun batteries on the station and on Grande Island at the mouth of the bay.