IN WHAT employees and guests initially thought was a terrorist attack on Valentine’s eve, a group claiming to be majority shareholders of the company over-powered security personnel to take control of Ocean Adventure, a marine theme park in this former US Naval Base, some 79 km. northwest of Manila.
“We have come under attack by nearly 70 armed mercenaries, who came in the night,” Robert C. Braun, chairman of the Board of Directors of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, Inc. (SBMEI) which runs Ocean Adventure, said in a statement, “first abusing and evicting the women from the staff dormitory, displacing security… they broke down doors, forced open a vault and coerced scared staff to attend to their demands… nothing about this is other than thuggery.”
Immediately after the physical take-over, the intruding group convened a “majority shareholders” meeting and appointed Scott N. Sharpe, said to be one of the founding owners of the company, as Chairman, vice Braun, and also President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), vice Arthur D. Tai.
Tai and Sharpe’s group are locked in a dispute over the company’s ownership that has reached Olongapo City’s Regional Trial Court, which recently dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
However, Sharpe’s group apparently took the dismissal as a go ahead to take-over the company, making their move on Valentine’s eve sans a court order nor decision on the question of ownership.
Sharpe’s group is identified with SBMEI’s former President and CEO Timothy J. Desmond, now temporarily free on a P3M bail bond after going into hiding to evade two warrants for his arrest issued by an Olongapo City Court for allegedly gypping businesswoman Virginia Dio of over $2M intended as investment at the theme park but which he allegedly used for his personal benefit, instead.
“This is an intra-corporate dispute that needs to be resolved between (the contending) parties,” SBMA Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said, “SBMA is not a party to (the) said dispute.”
However, Eisma said she is not supporting the take-over of Ocean Adventure by Sharpe et al.
“No one can just claim to own something and simply take it away by force,” Eisma said, ““we have laws and procedures that must be obeyed and respected.”
“Until such time that they are able to obtain a decision by a competent court declaring them to be the rightful owners, we will continue to recognize only company officers whose names appear on current legal documents,” Eisma added.
She said SBMA’s Regulatory and Legal teams have been mobilized “to look on what actions can we take on their failure to coordinate with SBMA.”
Philand Security and PNP SAF
Sharpe’s group engaged the services of Philand Security Agency, Inc. despite its lack of accredition with the SBMA, and therefore, should not have been able to operate, moreso, cause their guards to brandish firearms in the Freeport as they are presently doing as security personnel at Ocean Adventure.
Heavily-armed personnel of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), at the behest of Sharpe’s group, were also present during the “intrusion” despite their lack of jurisdiction and non-coordination with SBMA authorities.
Like Eisma, the SBMA Law Enforcement Department (LED) was kept in the dark by Sharpe’s group and was alerted only by calls and messages from terrified employees who were allegedly being detained against their will inside the park’s premises.
Olongapo Mayor Rolen C. Paulino, upon learning of the stand-off by frantic messages he received from employees and relatives residing in the city, also rushed to Ocean Adventure.
Paulino and Eisma were able to enter the premises and talked to the employees, some of whom were relieved to be escorted out while some chose to remain to attend to the guests.
“I commend the employees who chose to stay despite the adversity because they worry about the service of their guests,” she said, “these are dedicated workers with the work ethics of the Olongapeño and I am very proud of them.”
Sharpe and company may have taken over Ocean Adventure physically and the dispute may now be oblivious to the guests as operations appear to have normalized but hostilities may yet flare-up at any given moment, keeping Eisma and the rest of the SBMA leadership on their toes, up until when, there is no telling at this time. -30-