“WHEN I was small and Christmas trees were tall, we used to love while other used to play. Don't ask me why the time has passed by...Now we are tall and Christmas trees are small...”
Whenever I write an article about Christmas, I never fail to quote the first two lines of the song. 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. This is a recollection of how the American families celebrated Christmas. Of course their kids must have been dreaming of a white Christmas and imagining Mr. Snowman, Santa and the reindeers etc. This was in the seventies. And in our country, suman, nilaga and other dainties (kakanin) were the common table fare for us Filipinos. And the eclectic parols (lanterns) from San Fernando brought more color to the holiday season.
I remember when me and another friend were invited by an American master sergeant in their home and witnessed for the first time how Westerners prepared for the holidays. The living room with a tall Christmas tree with gifts wrapped in boxes of several sizes. Apples, oranges, chestnuts, ham and a whole roasted turkey. It was a spectacle that I can't help but swallowed the saliva watering my mouth. With that strange smell, the “nilaga and malagkit” at home were no match.
As a throwback, 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 and other restaurants and cafeterias.
Normally issued the passes were elected officials of Angeles and Mabalacat and selected towns, including some governors and congressmen. No hoi poloi.
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. Filipinos were feeling good just to have some few of these goodies. We love then and proud to have US servicemen and their families as our neighbors. We were separated by a fence and patrolling military police (MPs) with their ferocious dogs.
Not even the holidays will the Clark entrances be opened to the public. You need an escort. Even Santa Claus will be stopped at the gates. Today everyone has an access to the former American military installation. The so-called PX stores are there. There are now five star hotels where those who love to throw parties have venues. Golf courses and casinos for the rich. Tiendas and Korean restaurants that offer unlimited Samgyupsal and shabu-shabu. Except for the buildings which were headquarters of US Air Force officers which are still prominently standing facing which ironically still called parade ground no more traces of an American occupation. The said buildings are now used as corporate offices for workers of Clark Development Corporation. How time changed.
Tidbits: Malls in Pampanga are full of people. It is Christmas rush, we call it. There’s lack of parking space. Traffic getting heavy. Women queuing to the toilets and evidently showing discomfiture. Please consider constructing more and require bigger establishment put their own comfort rooms.
Congratulations to president Noel Manankil of Clark Development Corporation for the many facelifts done inside the Freeport. The road network is being upgraded and soon motorists will have smooth rides.
Mabalacat City Mayor Cris Garbo is so consistent. He never fails to host media persons at this time of the year. He prepares breakfast for us. Mabuhay ka. The other local officials are consistent too. No personal relationships with people in media. When they are misquoted, they complain. These whiners!