Sangil: Clark, then and now

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SOMETIMES it is puzzling to me why business groups in the country, particularly the influential Makati Business Club are raising “serious” concerns on President Duterte’s move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and were never concerned on the abuses resulting from a supposedly “strong relations” with the United States of America.

Let me cite some. Some reasons why a sizable number of Filipinos are expressing anti-American sentiment is their lack of sensibilities and fairness. For example, thousands of our countrymen make queue early morning in front of the US embassy along Roxas Boulevard attempting to secure a travel visa and chances are they will be denied after paying a visa fee of P8,000. (Let’s hope that one of these days a Senator will take the stand, do some researches if how much billions of pesos a year the United States embassy in Manila make. Come on Mr. Senator or Mr. Congressman please make a deliver privilege on this issue).

“Denied, next,” bark the person on the other side of the mirror who’s supposed to explain why you are denied. That’s their attitude. That’s how they normally treat us even in our own country. My fellow reporters and I, in Pampanga, experienced that kind of treatment when we were covering stories inside Clark Air Force Base then.

Do you remember that Nora Aunor movie wherein she shouted: “My brother is not a pig.”? That happened really in Clark when a sentry shot to death an alleged pilferer and when investigated he said he thought he saw a boar that’s why he shot him on sight. Later he was cleared on reason that he “was on a specific performance of his duty.” Later he was shipped to the United States and got scot-free. And no wonder we, reporters, can’t gain entry inside the military installation unless properly escorted coming in and coming out.

Clark Air Force Base was the biggest military installation outside of the United States. It’s the facility wherein the American government conducted operations in the whole of the Pacific was based. It was the home of the 13th US Air Force. It played an important role during the Vietnam war in the late sixties.

The prolonged stay of the Americans in our country caused some irritants between American servicemen and to people living in what we known then as the off-base communities like Porac, Angeles, Mabalacat, Bamban and Capas. Aside from those shot and killed by sentry guards suspected of pilfering, I clearly remember the case of a lawyer, a special counsel at the Angeles City Fiscal’s office who was arrested and handcuffed in full view of people just for fetching water from a faucet near the main gate. The Americans later apologized. But the damage was done.

It was true then that economies of the off-base communities were partly dependent on the American expenditures. The American base was the biggest employer. And on the downside it became also the source of black market items, thus competing with the locally manufactured goods. The so-called PX stores mushroomed in Dau, Mabalacat and in Angeles City.

Compared today, with the Americans gone and their military installation becoming a freeport, we never had it so good. The government under the presidency of Fidel Ramos drew up a plan, and converted it into an economic zone. And it was followed as envisioned during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo an airport led Freeport. Today more than 100 thousand workers are employed inside the freeport. The former American barracks and quonset houses were replaced by manufacturing factories, industrial buildings, upscale housing areas hotels and recreational activities. Tens of thousands of Filipinos and foreigners are going in and out freely inside Clark Freeport.


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