Sangil: Building 2125 revisited

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FOR nine long years, I served as a member of the board of directors of the Clark Development Corporation. I was in the company of learned and heavyweights. Personalities like Roy Navarro, Rufo Colayco, Babes Singson, Levi Laus, Narciso Abaya, Chichos Luciano, Vic Yap, Jess Nicdao, Benny Ricafort among others. We shared knowledge, stories and laughter. Those were the golden years of CDC. The same when I was appointed at the Bases Conversion and Development Authority in 2009 and resigned in 2013 to run for public office. (I was in the ticket then of mayoral candidate Tarzan Lazatin. The three of us, namely Pogi Lazatin, Bryan Nepomuceno and myself clinched seats at the Angeles City Council). More heavyweight corporate directors of the agency based in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

Today, we are lucky enough that the two presidents of the government agencies, BCDA and CDC, are both professional managers. Above all they are Kapampangans, Vince Dizon and Noel Manankil. Dizon's roots are from Porac and Capas in Tarlac. Manankil is homegrown and is from Angeles City. They're now taking charge of the two largest state-owned estates. The two are in their 40s. Both are focused and are with rolled sleeves in meeting challenges.

Last Friday, I was able to enter again after almost 10 years the conference room of Building 2125 inside Clark Freeport and this time, not as a member of the board but as representative of the Angeles City government to the Metro Clark Advisory Council (MCAC). New faces among board directors and a new management team headed by former Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose 'Ping' De Jesus and Manankil. Well, glad to know that CDC is in good hands and making strides. In the early years, Building 2125 was the headquarters of the 13th United States Air Force in the Pacific. No Filipino was allowed entry there.

Let's journey back. Those old enough, now in their senior years, and not suffering from Alzheimer's may have good memory when the Freeport was still Clark Air Force Base, the largest military installation outside of the United States of America.

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 mess halls which normally were reserved for the soldiers and their dependents. And one can line up at the Kelly Cafeteria for a quick hot meal. Very affordable even for a Filipino wage earner.

Normally issued, the passes were elected officials of Angeles and Mabalacat and selected towns, including some governors and congressmen. No hoi poloi. 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 of 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 loved then and were 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. (Remember Nora Aunor's line in the 1976 movie "Minsa'y Isang Gamo Gamo": 'My brother is not a pig.')

At the height of the Vietnam War in the late 60s, the airbase became the single biggest employer in the Central Luzon region. It employed around 21,000 Filipino workers. And off-base communities never had it so good. They experienced business activities never experienced before.

It ushered in the establishment 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 black market channel. Dependents of American servicemen, and even some GI himself, sold their PX items with hefty profit to the black market. The black market 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 problems. Now all of these are things of the past.


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