The Americans are coming back

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Sunday, May 11, 2014


MIXED REACTIONS -- The knowledgeable scratches his head. Business people and local residents living near the former bases are nodding their heads. Feisty Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said this EDCA is violative of the Philippine constitution. EDCA here is the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed one day before US President Barack Obama made his whirlwind visit here.

It is expected that a broader debate will ensue when both chamber, lower and upper, will tackle the fine prints in the agreement signed by the US ambassador, and of all people, why Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

CLARK AIR BASE -- Those not old enough will not have any memory of what was the Clark Freeport now when it was still Clark Air Force Base, the largest military installation outside of continental America, and home to the 13th US Air Force.

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Access to the base was so restrictive. Privileged local people were issued the so-called Commander's Pass. This was a very much coveted identification card that will give you access to the base, and will even allow you to dine at the Officers Club.

Normally issued the passes were members of the Pangkat Kawayan group led by the late Ener Lumanlan. Elected officials of Angeles and Mabalacat and selected towns, including the provincial governor were also issued the pass.

Media persons like us gained access but with escorts at all times and can only visit designated areas. No interviews allowed, but queries should all be directed to their information office.

Aside from the privilege by having the commander's pass to dine in their restaurants, there was an entitlement of making a purchase for few oranges, apples and chocolates. There was nothing more colorful other than that, at that time when the US servicemen and their families were our neighbors and only separated by a fence and patrolling military police (MPs) with their ferocious dogs.

BRISK BUSINESS -- Clark Air Base, particularly at the height of the Vietnam war in the late sixties, became the single biggest employer in the Central Luzon region. It employed around 21,000 Filipino workers. And off-base communities never had so good. They experienced business activities never experienced before.

It ushered in the establishments of PX stores in Angeles and Mabalacat. They sell nothing but post exchanges items coming out of Clark and some from Subic Naval Base in Olongapo passing through the blackmarket channel.

Dependents of American servicemen, and even the GI himself at times, sold their PX items with hefty profit to the blackmarket.

The blackmarket profits may have contributed to the mushrooming of the clubs and other small joints and added to the growth of the now internationally known Fields Avenue. Prostitution was unabated and resulted to social hygiene problem. Vietnam rose became a by-word, and it was not even a flower.

BASE WITHIN THE BASE -- I one time wrote in this space chiding militants why they insisted on conducting their anti-American rallies in front of the Clark Freeport gate. And then I wrote ' GI JOE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE'!

Now it seems I spoke to soon. In the implementation of the EDCA, GI Joe will again settle in Clark, at least for ten years.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 12, 2014.

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