A CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ON CLEANING UP THE U.S. MILITARY BASES
Rep. Wigberto E. Tanada
4th District, Quezon Province
Speech before the First International Conference on US Military Toxics and Bases Clean-up hosted jointly by the People’s Task Force on Bases Cleanup and Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition, Asian Social Institute, Manila. Nov. 23-26, 1997.
Tanada was a former Senator of the Philippines for eight years. He led the Philippine Senate in the historic rejection of the proposed renewal of the bases treaty in Sept. 16,1991. He is currently President of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM.)
This International Conference on US Military Toxics and Bases Cleanup is a milestone and a historic event. As far as I know, it is the first convergence of organizations worldwide to articulate national experiences and to map out a common strategy on the problem of toxic wastes and hazardous substances in existing and former US military bases and facilities.
We are happy that you have joined us today for this historic international forum where you can share with us your country’s experience with US military toxics and the process of bases cleanup, and at the same time learn from other people’s experiences in justly demanding the United States government to face up to its responsibility for the toxic mess it created.
I am hopeful that we can all join forces with other peoples similarly faced with the toxic and hazardous waste problem generated by US military forces so that there can be a stronger international network for demanding the cleanup of existing and former US military facilities.
The issues emerging from various countries where there are US military facilities are tied to a common denominator: environmental degradation and negligence. Long years of misuse and abuse of our soil through unproductive military activities have resulted in the emission, discard or discharge of undetermined amounts of toxic and hazardous waste on the soil or into the air and water. The figures are staggering.
In the United States itself, 18,000 contaminated sites have been identified in approximately 1,600 active military facilities. Claims and suits have been filed against the US government and Pentagon by communities and local governments to compel the US military establishment to assume responsibility for its disastrous toxic legacy. As to overseas US military facilities and bases, the situation is even worse if we are to consider the fact that between 1984 and 1991, there were 1,259 country claims related to toxic and hazardous waste contamination filed against the US government worldwide. And the issue has barely been unearthed!
In the Asia-Pacific region, where US military forces still operate under a Cold War budget and in a state of Cold War footing, military activities and military exercises continue unabated, at the magnitude of those held during the height of the Cold War. It is as if the Cold War has not ended in the Asia-Pacific, targeting this time drug syndicates, terrorists, and most recently, “trouble makers” — imagined or real — purportedly out to disrupt the APEC summit meeting.
In the Philippines, there is more than enough preliminary evidence of the toxic waste problem from the former US bases. These include no less than documents from the US Department of Defense such as “Environmental Review of the Drawdown Activities at Clark Air Base” (dated September 1991) and, “Potential Restoration Sites on Board the US Facility, Subic Bay” (October, 1992). There is also the US General Accounting Office (GAO) report, entitled “Military Base Closures, US Financial Obligations in the Philippines” (1992) as well as the independent report of the World Health Organization (May 9,1993). All these reports admit and confirm the presence of hazardous and toxic wastes in the former US military bases, citing known and potentially contaminated sites in both Subic and Clark.
In addition, there are the independent studies by concerned scientists and toxic experts from the United States and Canada which have verified the initial documentation through limited tests on the former baselands. Likewise, local community groups from Olongapo, Subic town, Angeles City and Mabalacat, including their local government officials, have pushed for the investigation of the problem because of its impact on the people’s health and safety.
Because of these indicators and evidences, I have filed resolutions in the Philippine Congress to compel the United States to conduct scientific investigations and tests, and to face up to its responsibility in cleaning up the toxic mess it left behind in the former bases. Lately, Senator Orlando Mercado, Chairman of the Senate Defense Committee, has also pressed for an inquiry on this issue.
As we gather today for this international forum, we hear the trumpeting of a new era at Subic where the heads of state of 18 member-governments of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) are going to meet. Do we scare away foreign investors when we raise the toxic waste issue as a public health issue and demand justice? Or is it better, as government publicists would want it, that we give them the necessary assurance that all is well and that this problem is being addressed head-on?
But where are the concrete steps and remedial measures to prove that the problem of toxic wastes is indeed being squarely addressed? The point is, environmental issues should not and must not be ignored as our country’s President girds for a series of meetings with the US President. It will be reassuring to see this environmental concern directly addressed because the life, health and welfare of the Filipino people are directly at risk.
My friends, the issue of the bases cleanup is a good opportunity and occasion for the United States to practice what it preaches about caring for the earth. It can start the process by directly assuming responsibility to the host country and thereby standing up to its own claims that it is indeed concerned with environmental pollution and destruction.
As we join forces in the international campaign for bases clean-up in our respective countries, we should also challenge the APEC member-countries to take up this pressing environmental problem caused by the US military forces. The international community should also push for an international environmental treaty which shall apply the “polluters-must-pay” principle for all governments, military forces and multinational corporations.
It is going to be a difficult and a formidable task, but that is what they also told us when we struggled against the continued presence of the US military bases.
Together, let us join hands in this international campaign for foreign military bases cleanup. Together, let us speak with one voice in declaring to the US government: Gentlemen, please clean up the mess you left behind. And please, do it now!
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002