Thursday, March 8, 2012

Subic Bay Freeport Zone & Johnny Law

Subic Bay is mainly known for the American naval base that used to be there prior to 1992.  After the Philippine, Senate decided not to renew the military base agreement with the United States in 1991, shortly after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, Olongapo city annexed the newly acquired base with the intention of turning it into a Freeport zone similar to Hong Kong and Singapore.  The economic Freeport zone has had some limited success.  On the whole I think it has been positive.  Subic Bay is a relatively nice place, and seems to be a bit more organized than many other Philippine cities of the same size.      

The one thing I also discovered about the Freeport zone is that it appears to be the only place where they regularly enforce the traffic laws, for foreigners anyway.  I discovered this while coming up to a stop sign.  As I was rolling to the stop sign and beginning to slow down in preparation for the stop, I noticed various other vehicles ahead of me slowing and coming to what I would refer to as a "California" stop.  Which means you're not really stopped your just slowly rolling as you look for traffic both ways before you hit the gas and continue.   Since my standard philosophy of riding in the Philippines is to go with the flow, I proceeded to the stop sign and performed a California stop the same as everyone else.        

I did notice a man standing near the stop sign with a yellow vest on, but since I was basically doing exactly what everyone in front of me was doing, I figured there would not be any problems, would there?  He would treat me the same as everyone else wouldn't he?  I think you already know the answer to this, but I am going to tell you anyway.  No he did not, as soon as I started to hit the gas, he ran out into the street and started blowing his whistle motioning for me to pull to the side of the road.  I obliged and pulled over, where he proceeded to ask me if I knew why I was being pulled over.  I looked at him and quite honestly replied, no I do not.  He then explained that I had run a stop sign.  I looked at him and said you mean the same one I saw five people roll through before me?  Yes, that is the one sir.  Where are you going sir?  We are going to Zambales.  Do you have a license sir?  I handed him my US license with the motorcycle endorsement.  Is this your motorcycle sir?  I replied and explained we had just purchased the motorcycle from a dealer in Manila, and the name transfer had not taken place yet,  but yes I did own it, and proceeded to show him the bill of sale and current registration.  I am going to have to write you a ticket sir.  Where upon I asked him why he did not pull any of the previous cars over that had done the exact same thing I had.  I did not see them sir.  I looked at my wife and in a sarcastic tone said, I guess I should have been wearing my full-face helmet, so he couldn't tell I was white.  My wife then proceeded to talk to him in Tagalog and convinced him not to write the ticket.  He handed me the paperwork to the bike back and lectured me on the need to pay better attention to traffic signs  while in Subic Bay.      

My wife has a very good way of charming her way out of things.  She is usually too shy to use this hidden weapon, but thankfully, she decided  it would be best to get out of there as soon as possible.   I am sure her being Philippina help the issue, and she never really told me exactly what she said, and maybe I don't want to know, but whatever it was; it worked.  I should point out that this was the first and last traffic policeman I have seen outside of Manila.  We never saw another one.

I have since heard from various Philippinos and foreigners traveling through and living in Subic Bay that it is not uncommon to get pulled over there, and I was not necessary being singled out.  Apparently, both Philippinos and foreigners get tickets regularly in Subic Bay.  I heard this from what I would consider to be reliable Philippinos and foreigners.  My advice if you happen to be traveling through Subic bay is to follow the traffic laws even if no one else appears to be.


  1. I like you enjoy "California Traffic Stops" that said I generally only do the when there are no cops in sight. I was a bit suprised that you would ride a bike in the Philippines without a helmet. It's good to know though that a double standard exists toward foreigners. If I do ever ride there I'll make sure my face shield has a mirror reflection so my face can't be seen.

  2. You can ride without a helmet and in the Provinces most Philippinos do not wear one. We were wearing half helmets at the time. We have since purchased two full face helmets. We wear them since it eliminates any reason to be pulled over. However you could probably get away without wearing one most of the time.