The City of Olongapo is a first class, highly urbanized city located in the province of Zambales in the Philippines. It is one of the 14 cities of Region III or the Central Luzon Region. Though it is geographically located in Zambales, Olangapo is an independent city which means that the provincial government has no political jurisdiction over the city.
Situated at the southern part of Zambales, Olangapo is approximately 127 kilometers north of Manila. Its land area is 103.3 square kilometers which is further subdivided into 17 barangays. Being a highly urbanized city, Olongapo is inhabited by 221,178 people according to the latest census.
Olongapo has a lot of interesting stories and inspiring history to tell. During the American occupation in the Philippines, the Americans realized the remarkable importance of Olongapo as a naval facility. So the United States of America, decided to keep a functioning naval base in the waters of Olongapo and some adjacent lands. The naval station grew wide with the establishment of American rule in the Philippines.
As a result, Olongapo also grew, as more people came to live in the city because of the employment offered by the base. Young men were lured to leave their farms and fishing boats to experience a different kind of work either as shop or office workers. Others were enticed by the sea and joined the U.S. Navy. During this time, Olongapo was one of the finest communities in the country because of its superb cleanliness and orderliness.
When the 2nd World War broke out, Olongapo was almost annihilated from the face of the earth. It was bombed, shelled and burned. None of its former landmarks withstood the wrath of the war and everything in Olongapo was in a terrible state. When the hostilities ceased, the navy started to rebuild the town on a completely new undeveloped site, a couple of miles north from its former place. Step by step, Olongapo evolved into a better community, new businesses and housing projects were established.
Unlike the rest of the Philippines, Olongapo was continuously governed by the United States even after World War II. Its 60,000 Filipino residents paid their taxes to the United States Navy.The city was the last piece of Philippine territory that was surrendered by the US government to the country in 1950s. Along with the continued stay of the U.S. base, the city’s economy kept booming. At that time, the base employed 15,000 Filipino civilians and was visited by some 215 ships per month. Prostitution became widespread in the city as wild nightclubs began sprouting along Ramon Magsaysay Drive. American servicemen visiting the base remember talented Filipino musicians and singers, inexpensive San Miguel beers, attractive prostitutes and erotic floor show dancers. During those times, Olongapo went by the nickname "Sin City of the Philippines".
June 15, 1991 proved to be a memorable date for the people of Olongapo. Mount Pinatubo, located 20 miles away, erupted with such intensity that turned day to night as volcanic ash blotted out the sun accompanied with volcanic earthquakes, heavy rain, lightning and thunder caused by a passing typhoon over northern Luzon. It was a 36-hour nightmare for the people of Olongapo and nearby towns. This also caused enormous damage to the U.S. facility in the city.
The challenges for the city did not end there. On September 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted not to renew the RP-US Military Base Agreement, leaving more than 10,000 employees of the base jobless.
After the city’s twin disaster – withdrawal of U.S. Base and Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, eight thousand undaunted and resilient people of Olongapo led by their Mayor Richard “Dick” Gordon volunteered to protect the abandoned U.S. naval facility and preserve the remaining virgin forest in the area. The courage and determination of these people paid off.
Eventually, Olongapo rose from the ashes and from being a "sin city", it has become a "model city". It has emerged as a premier economic showcase of the country and one of Asia’s great tourist destinations. The abandoned base was turned into an industrial and tourism zone in the country, the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ).
Nature has blessed Olongapo with a beautiful scenario. The calm waters of Subic Bay, together with its natural harbor protected by mountains on three sides, can be viewed in just an easy ride from the city’s proper going to the north. So if you’re planning for an exciting getaway, you shouldn’t miss to visit Olongapo City. It is just a 2-hour drive northwest of Manila and can also be reached by plane through the Subic Bay International Airport.
Upon reaching the city, a towering and majestic marker at the rotunda in Bajac-Bajac would welcome you. This is known as the "Ulo ng Apo" (Head of the Elder), a very evident tourist attraction to immortalize the legend of how the city derived its name.
Other interesting places in Olongapo to explore are the Gordon Memorial Park and the Olongapo Lighthouse, both offering a panoramic and breathtaking view of Subic Bay perfect for picture taking. The Volunteer’s Park, located adjacent to the main gate of Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ), is a long and narrow park where the Volunteer’s Wall can be found. This wall is made of granite slabs where the names of the 8000 brave volunteers who pioneered SBFZ were engraved.
If you want to unwind and have a taste of Olongapo’s nightlife, visit the Ramon Magsaysay Drive where chains of bars, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants and sauna bath can be found. You may also visit the Marikit Park, located at the city center, which features a scenic playground and benches for relaxation. This place is perfect for children and children-at-heart to enjoy. If you’re looking for a serene place to commune spiritually, go to the Grotto of Our Lady of Pardon located near the side of Kalaklan Bridge in Barangay Mabayuan.
Administratively the Highly Urbanized City of Olongapo City is subdivided into 17 barangays. The most populous are New Ilalim, New Kababae, Asinan, Pag-asa, West Tapinac, Banicain, West Bajac-bajac, New Kalalake, East Tapinac, Mabayuan, Kalaklan, Barreto, East Bajac-bajac, Old Cabalan, New Cabalan.
Among the bigger cities and municipalities in the neighborhood of Olongapo City there are Taguig City (Fourth District) 91 km east-south-east, City Of Antipolo (Rizal) 99 km east-south-east, City Of Pasig (Second District) 90 km east-south-east, City Of Manila (First District) 82 km east-south-east, Caloocan City (Third District) 76 km east-south-east, Quezon City (Second District) 85 km east-south-east, City Of Parañaque (Fourth District) 84 km east-south-east, City Of Valenzuela (Third District) 75 km east-south-east, City Of Makati (Fourth District) 86 km east-south-east as well as 84 km east-south-east of Olongapo City the highly urbanized city City Of Las Piñas (Fourth District).