Apr 122013
 

Brief Background

On February 2, 1987, the Filipino people, with 76% of the 25 million eligible voters participating, overwhelmingly ratified a pro-peace and nuclear weapons-free Constitution.  On June 6, 1988, the Philippine Senate approved the “Freedom From Nuclear Weapons Act” to implement in concrete terms the constitutional mandate and, now, the national policy banning nuclear weapons from Philippine territory.

At first, the problem was that not all anti-nuclear advocates inside or outside the government were anti-bases.  But it was actually the Americans who unwittingly reconciled the two, making anti-nuclear pacifists into fierce anti-bases advocates.  Everyone knew that the U.S. Navy regularly transited and always had on “standby storage” tactical nuclear weapons in their massive logistical depots on Philippine territory.  U.S. authorities made this clear when they threatened to give up the bases if nuclear weapons were not allowed on them.  Moreover, the U.S. policy and insistence on neither confirming or denying the presence of nuclear weapons on the bases naturally led Filipinos to link nuclear weapons with the bases, and, consequently, to call for the removal of U.S. bases and facilities.

On September 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate, exercising its constitutional duty, voted to reject the Philippine-U.S. bases treaty that would have extended the U.S. military presence in our territory for another ten years.  This decision called for the closure of 22 American bases scattered throughout the Philippines, including two of the largest U.S. bases outside of U.S.A. — the Clark and Subic bases.  On December 31, 1991, the Philippine government finally decided to give the United States government a year to complete its military withdrawal from the Philippines.

But, while the fate of the military bases was still being discussed, nature herself had hastened the departure of the U.S. troops from Clark Air Base.  Mount Pinatubo, a volcano located adjacent to the base, erupted in June 1991.

From Volcanic Ashes to Toxic Dump

As Americans fled the base, residents of communities in Manibaug Porac, sought refuge within Clark’s borders.  Government set up an evacuation camp at Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM) for more than 20, 000 families.  About 7,000 families lived in tent houses inside the camp.  Necessarily, thousands of evacuee families were forced to share the use of severely inadequate facilities including 203 deep wells and around 200 emergency toilets instantly installed in various places inside the 12-hectare camp.  Today, many children who were conceived and born in CABCOM suffer congenital heart ailments and central nervous system disorders.  Those who grew and lived within the area have been found to develop immune system disorder and are now suffering from various types of cancer including leukemia.

These are some of the victims:

 

 

Sheila Pineda, 3 years old,   has congenital heart disease.

Sheila Pineda, 3 years old,
has congenital heart disease.


Abraham Taruc, 6 years old, has cerebral palsy.

Abraham Taruc, 6 years old, has cerebral palsy.


Regine Balagtas, 3 years old,   has congenital heart disease   (two holes in the heart).

Regine Balagtas, 3 years old,
has congenital heart disease
(two holes in the heart).


 

 

Lester Basilio, 13 years old,  has serious kidney disorder.  Scheduled for dialysis.

Lester Basilio, 13 years old,
has serious kidney disorder.
Scheduled for dialysis.


Evidences of Contamination

In 1992, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported contaminated sites in Clark and Subic but claimed “no responsibility for environmental damage.”  The report, however, triggered investigation by other concerned agencies.  Among them are:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) Mission Report, which identified the pollutants present in the former bases;

  • Department of Health (DOH) Review, which found oil and grease in water samples taken from water wells in Clark;

  • “Health for All Study” by Canadian Epidemiologist Rosalie Bertell, which noted “startingly high” levels of kidney diseases;

  • Woodward Clyde Environmental Baseline Survey and Environmental Quality Survey of Subic;

  • Weston International  Environmental Baseline Study and Soil & Water Baseline Study at Clark;

  • The investigation conducted by the Commission on Human Rights, which confirmed all other earlier studies.

All the above studies revealed that heavy metals and contaminants ranging from oil and petroleum lubricants, pesticides such as aldrin, dieldrin and DDT to PCBs, lead, mercury, arsenic and others were found in various levels exceeding Philippine National Standards.

Status Quo?

While it has been nearly a decade since the U.S. Forces abandoned their military bases in Philippine territory, almost a century of American military presence indelibly left its mark on the lives of people living in the former base lands.  Within what is now the Clark Special Economic Zone and its outskirts, former R&R bars thrive, foreign investors and tourists luxuriate in resorts while foreign currencies freely circulate in the duty-free shops of Clark’s vast commercial area.  In contrast, residents of communities bordering the base, who are mostly impoverished, wonder whether their children would grow up healthy, or even at all.  For these Filipinos were thoughtlessly subjected to one of the most disturbing cases of environmental injustice in Asia, or even around the world.

Von Hernandez, chairperson of the People’s Task Force for Bases (PTFBC) Clean-up, in the Foreword of the PTFBC book, INHERITORS OF THE EARTH:

The continuing tragedy of poisoning and contamination in Clark and Subic is an active statement of the irresponsible and reckless way in which the United States conducted itself at the height of its military presence and dominance in the Philippines.  The heartbreaking stories of babies dying and people suffering from leukemia, mental disorders, weakened immune systems and various learning disabilities within and around the former bases represent an enduring legacy of toxic transgressions whose foremost and vulnerable victims are children.

While the victim communities wait for responsible action from the U.S. as well as their own government, the miasma of poisons left behind by the American military will keep on wreaking the damage.  The damage is not only physical, it is also profound.  This chemical trespass stabs into the future when it robs our children of their potential to achieve and live healthy and meaningful lives.

It is unthinkable for a nation to sacrifice the lives of its children and allow them to continue skirting the edge of an abysmal toxic future.  When we allow this to happen by our own inaction and by the insensitivity of our own decision makers, we are guilty of betraying not only their future but our future as a nation.  After all, our children are all that we are as a people.  They are all that we have.  No one, not even the world’s most powerful nation, has the right to steal our children’s future.

It is also noteworthy, that the Philippine Senate — after proudly upholding the nuclear-free constitutional mandate, despite U.S. pressure — recently ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.  Having this agreement is worse than having bases because it puts the U.S. military above Philippine laws, giving them unrestricted use of our territories, with no responsibility for the subsequent toxic wastes and other damages to our land and our people.

Will we allow the whole Philippines to be a toxic dumpsite and our people deprived of meaningful lives?

 

 

Class Action Suits against the U.S. and the Philippine Governments:

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PEOPLE’S TASK FORCE FOR BASES CLEAN-UPP

LINKS:

   

 

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