After more than three centuries of Spanish colonization, the Filipinos won independence. Due to its vast economic interests in the Philippines and its location in terms of its strategic interests on China, the United States government did not honor this independence and invaded the Philippines. It took control of the Philippines after a bloody war that claimed the lives of an estimated half a million Filipinos. For half a century, the Philippines became a direct colony of the U.S. later on paving the way for a "self-governance" a euphemism for puppet governments that helped shape the neo-colonial order in the Philippines - economy, politics and culture - to continue serving U.S. interest.
During World War II, the Japanese government took control of the Philippines for three years and before the fall of the fascist regimes, when the Philippine guerrillas were winning the war locally, the U.S. Military forces came back to repossess the Philippine in the guise of being great liberators. Having completed the training of local bureaucrats and forced to respond to a strong clamor for independence by Filipinos, the U.S. granted fake independence to the Philippines by tying it up to general treaties and agreements that ensured its dominance over the Philippines. One of those agreements was the U.S. Military Bases Agreement (MBA) of 1947 that provided the legal framework for maintaining American military presence in the Philippines and strategically in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The original agreement provided for a 99-year rent-free contract that was later on amended to end in 1991. Having been signed prior to the era of environmental awareness, it did not have provisions for environmental protection and clean-up by the US Military.
From the signing of the MBA up to the rejection of a treaty to extend the bases presence in 1991, nationalist organizations, grassroots people and patriotic legislators fought for the removal of the bases. Due to a strong anti-bases movement, on September 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted against a new bases treaty and the U.S. military forces had to go despite its maneuverings and tremendous pressure on the Philippine government for a five-year phase-out. The Philippine government and NGOs having had no popular issue and information on bases contamination, the negotiations nor subsequent talks did not demand for clean-up of the former US bases until the declassification of a US GAO Report in 1992. Pull out of troops started in Clark Airforce Base when the volcano Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and was completed almost simultaneously when the US forces vacated Subic in 1992.
The major bases were established at the onset of the American occupation. There were 23 facilities which were expanded, developed and were reduced over time to seven facilities prior to closure. The seven facilities, namely - Subic Naval Base, Clark Airforce Base, Camp John Hay Air Station, Camp Wallace Air station, San Miguel Naval Communication Station, and O'Donnel Communication Station - covered a total area of approximately 90,000 hectares of land, water and forest.
The two major bases were Clark Airforce Base covering 63,240 hectares while Subic Naval Base spans 24,000 hectares. Clark Airbase was the largest. It is approximately the size of Singapore, of the District of Columbia in the United States, and was bigger in size than the combined area of US bases outside of the mainland USA. The original size of Subic Naval Base is approximately the size of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. These two bases were the launching pad and played key logistical role to US aggression and intervention in China, Siberia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan and in the Middle East. Significantly, Subic Naval Base was a combat support base during the Vietnam War.
The former U.S. bases in the Philippines functioned as : headquarters of the 13th U.S. Air Force, primary port of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, staging point, major communications nodal point and relay station, nuclear submarine base, ground terminal for satellite surveillance, ship and aircraft repair facility, training area, major supply depot, weapons storage, bombing ranges for air and amphibious support training and for war exercises and rest and recreation areas for both navy and airforce that operated in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
More than 13,000 US troops were permanently stationed in the US bases (excluding civilian employees and dependents) with an average of 9,000 sailors and marines visiting frequently.
Environmental and Health damages caused by U.S. military bases Clark Airbase and Subic Naval Base
Logically, the former US bases in the Philippines by virtue of their huge size, large functions, length of use and less restrictions in use compared to other overseas bases, have generated enormous amounts of toxic and hazardous waste. "The Philippines, with the largest US bases, may have the worst problems" (The U.S. Military's Toxic Legacy, National Toxic Campaign Fund, 1991). U.S. officials like David Berteau, a top Pentagon official said, "there is no reason to believe that the activities at Subic were any better than at U.S. facilities" in this country. Comparable navy yards in the U.S. are among the worst sites on the Superfund list… If there's horror story out there, Subic may be it". Gary Vest, who oversees environmental issues in foreign bases for the Pentagon said, "there is no question the former US bases in the Philippines were contaminated by American forces"(Boston Globe,11/15/99).
A comparative study of the Subic and Clark bases to heavily polluted bases that are in National Priorities List of the US DoD which are many times less its size, functions and years of operation like MacLellan Airforce Base, Tinker Air force Base and Treasure Island Naval Station, Hunters Point Annex, in the absence of comprehensive investigation approximates significant pollution problem that exists in these bases despite the lack or absence of information. In these areas there are soil, groundwater, surface water, bay sediment, air and aquifer contamination.
Data gathered by PTFBCU do not include more serious contamination problems caused by nuclear waste, depleted uranium, agent orange and unexploded ordnance. However, there are clear indications of their presence in the environment considering that Subic was a nuclear submarine base : testimonies of former base workers; confirmation of a New Zealand Transportation Minister that ingredients of agent orange were shipped to Subic from New Plymouth during the Vietnam War; depleted uranium was widely used in the Gulf War prior to which US forces had trained before their departure for the Gulf war in the 1990's; reports of deaths from unexploded ordnance; the existence of several bombing ranges in both bases especially the Crow Valley Bombing Range covering 20,000 hectares.
PTFBCU has counted from all the documents and studies available 46 contaminated sites more than half of which are POPs- (Persistent Organic Pollutants) contaminated sites in both Clark and Subic. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the opinion of US NGO experts that "had the problems been reported at Clark and Subic been in the U.S., the government would have already conducted an assessment to see if the environment has been destroyed and if public health is threatened." The 27 sites discovered in Clark pales in comparison to the data for MacLellan Airforce base in California where 258 contaminated sites were identified and there is serious groundwater contamination problem. In Subic many of the chemicals found are the top 20 hazardous substances in the U.S. From these comparisons, experts estimate that comprehensive investigation would cost $3 Million dollars for comprehensive investigation and clean-up would cost a billion dollar each for Clark and Subic.
The document that best summed up the significant environmental damage in the Philippines by the US bases was the declassified US General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of the U.S. Senate (US GAO)report of 1992 that states, environmental inspectors discovered practices that are not in compliance with US standards and that if ever cleaned-up would be of Superfund Proportions". Abandonment of PCB and asbestos abatement plans in Clark were contained in this documents.
Superfund means "worst of the worst" in terms of contamination costing millions to billions of dollars for clean-up in the U.S. Previous to this, a 1991 GAO Report also said most of the facilities have poor hazardous waste management facilities and programs.
Due to this serious contamination problem, health damages have also occurred and continue to occur in the bases. These are confirmed by health surveys and the result of PTFBCU research and monitoring on the health of the people who worked and lived inside and in the perimeter communities base and technical reviews of the studies. The Clear Water Revival Company, a US consulting firm which reviewed the Woodward Clyde and Weston study of Clark declared that : the result of sampling indicate that existing environmental conditions within the Subic Freeport Zone present an imminent and substantial endangerment and underscored the serious potential of groundwater contamination at Clark.
The Bertell study of a Canada-based NGO organized by the PTFBCU identified high levels of illnesses associated with the presence of toxics in the immediate environs of Clark and recommended the evacuation of communities close to contaminated sites. Dr. Bertell whose award-winning health study of Clark was the same design used in establishing the Bhopal toxic disaster and was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. The study found "dominant health problems for adult women between the ages of 20 and 50 years: reproductive problems, nervous system problems, kidney and urinary tract problems" in areas close to contaminated sites, fair to poor health of more than fifty per cent of the children and identified significant number of the children with respiratory diseases caused by contaminated dust and polluted drinking water. In CABCOM, the former US motor pool turned evacuation center of thousands of families victims of 1991 volcanic eruption, PTFBCU, found : an extraordinarily high occurrence of cancer including leukemia among children, spontaneous abortion, still births, congenital illnesses of the brain and heart, kidney diseases even among children, and neuro-disorders cases which do not exist in other evacuation centers.
In Subic, many workers who were exposed to asbestos in the course of their work in the naval shipyard are suffering from lung illnesses consistent with these exposures. Out of the 1,500 members of YAKAP-Subic, the organization of victims, 125 have died from asbestos- induced illnesses and many more are exhibiting signs of asbestosis leading to Mesotheliama, a type of lung cancer. At least three or four die each month. This data does not include the rest of the 8,000 SRF (Ship repair Facility) workers who were exposed to asbestos in varying degrees. There are 20,000 to 30,000 former base workers who are highly suspected to be contaminated by asbestos dust/powder brought by air and toxic waste chemicals apart from scavengers, base and residents of perimeter communities. Moreover, in a span of 10 years before and after pullout, 320 leukemia cases from the communities of Subic were reported in one hospital alone. Eighty per cent were children. This is many times higher than the occurrence of leukemia in the communities around military bases in the US.
Blood tests by the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Poisons Control confirmed presence of lead and arsenic in the blood of people who lived in CABCOM. In a random sampling of 97 residents, 47 tested positive in high levels for arsenic and lead secretly conducted by Department of Health (DOH). These were gathered from confidential information of DOH later secured by the PTFBCU. This is indicative of the situation of almost 50% of the 175,000 former inhabitants of CABCOM. The study was limited by lack of budget and did not include the more pernicious POPs such as PCBs and pesticides aldrin, dieldrin and chlordane which were discovered in similar sites. In Subic, the PTFBCU unearthed a Department of Environment Natural and Resources (DENR) study that confirmed presence of high levels of hexavalent chromium in 3 rivers in Subic that supplies the water for the converted base residents and the nearby communities.
These characterization of the serious contamination problem are only the "tip of the iceberg" given the : very minimal disclosure of requested information by the US government, the Philippine government's lack of technical capacity and funds to pursue further studies, and the PTFBCU's lack of funding for initiatives in this area of work.
The position of the US government and the government of the Philippines.
At the beginning of the report, a comprehensive historical background was laid out to underscore the context of the US military presence. That was meant to explain the staunch position of the US government to not accept responsibility as well as the reluctance and lack of political will on the part of the Philippine government to actively negotiate for further investigation, information and clean-up.
From President Clinton to President Bush, officials of the US Department of Defense and the US Embassy have made empty promises for technical assistance and clean-up, lied and downplayed the contamination problem, stonewalled, and have issued subtle, diplomatic and oftentimes arrogant replies when responsibility over the toxics is raised. The worst was when a US Embassy official said that even the US GAO report is "hearsay" and that US responsibility emanating from the MBA is "horse shit". During the APEC meeting in Manila in 1996, the State Department Secretary declared to media that they would do something about the problem and when we checked with his office they had no idea what he was talking about.
Just recently, the U.S. Embassy expressed that it is a non-issue because they've been out of the bases for ten years already and therefore it is now a Philippine government responsibility despite the fact that many of the contaminants identified have persistent characteristics.
The US argues that the MBA had no explicit provision for clean-up. Like many of the bases treaties and SOFAs of other host nations, the agreement was negotiated and was operational before the advent of environmental awareness. However with the passage of international laws (both environmental and human rights laws). creation of US laws to clean-up its military bases and the precedent case of US payment for clean-up of bases in Canada though it is not provided in their agreement, there exists a strong basis for the demand for comprehensive, investigation and clean-up by the U.S. government.
On the other hand, throughout the Ramos and Estrada administrations, negotiations have occurred due to pressures from NGOs led by the PTFBCU. The sporadic negotiations culminated in a joint statement between the two governments otherwise known as the Environmental Cooperation Agreement which states that the US will help in broader environmental concerns leaving out the former US bases. Conclusively, the piece of paper was meant to end the negotiations and weaken the people's movement for bases clean-up and majority of the Filipino which was at its strongest point, due to reports of several children dying due to the toxic contamination in the base perimeter communities.
For four years of the present administration of President Arroyo, negotiations have come to a complete halt. Just as past negotiations for military aid, more loans and investments put the bases clean-up issue in the backburner. During the time of Ms. Arroyo, it was totally wiped out from the agenda notwithstanding appeals from subordinate agencies for inclusion of the issue in official talks between the two governments. The Department of Foreign Affairs that is in charge of the negotiations in particular negotiates from a position that they cannot do anything about it because the US refuses to clean-up for it would make other host nations follow-suit. Right now, government officials keep telling the PTFBCU that the US wants to help only if Filipinos are not too noisy about it.
To worsen further the toxics contamination problem, in the midst of this stonewalling by the U.S. government, the Philippine government agreed to two new agreements with the US that would definitely add up to the contamination problems to the whole of the Philippines. The agreements give permission to their troops to hold unlimited number and length of war exercises, bring weapons and ammunition, re-fuel, use different ports and air strips in all the areas of the archipelago and even construct facilities(Visiting Forces Agreement and Mutual Logistics Support Agreement). Exercises are even being held in the war zones of Mindanao with direct participation in combat and intelligence work by the US troops.
Monitoring of environmental impact and government enforcement of environmental laws vis-à-vis the US during visits have been proven weak for example in the case of Subic Bay where a fine imposed on a visiting US ship that dumped human waste into Subic Bay last July 2004. In this case, the VFA Commission ruled in favor of the Americans.
On bases conversion, the authorities of Clark and Subic have downplayed the contamination problem and proceeded with conversion without consideration of the environmental problems thereby putting at risk the health of the workers, employees, investors and visitors. In fact the government plan is to build a global gateway linking up Subic and Clark. The Phil. authorities are now aggressively developing even the areas which have been recommended not to be touched without further investigation and clean-up. There is an item on the clean-up of the former bases in the overall development plan of the country but nothing concrete is happening. An ecology officer admitted that they just turned blind to the contamination problem because the Philippine government doesn't have the resources and capacity to clean-up. Limited studies of contamination and remediation of the Subic landfill
were accomplished at the expense of the Philippines, using loans from the World Bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Both Subic and Clark have been converted as major tourist destination and industrial enclaves or special economic zones prioritizing foreign investors instead of Filipino businessmen with many incentives like tax exemption for the investors and non-application of ECCs (Environmental Compliance Certificates).
Furthermore, conversion plans were developed and implemented without the participation of local residents. In Subic, even the restricted area of the former naval magazine where ammunition were tested, exploded, dumped into the bay have been turned into beach resorts, ocean adventure park or dolphins show area and facilities for Japanese retirees. Close to the many contaminated sites like for example the Public Works Center where PCB soil contamination were reported sits a Montesorri school for children, many colleges, hotels, duty free shops and sports facilities. There is an ongoing port development in the former shipyard that dredged and therefore released the toxics and nuclear waste covered by volcano ash in the sediments of Subic Bay. In Clark, the PTFBC, monitored the building of a big mall and a duty free shop on top of an identified contaminated sites, the establishment of a Korean greenhouse very close to the huge landfill and the open dumping and burning of asbestos being stripped from old airforce housing. In the former houses of airforce officers converted into a venue for trainings and relaxation, visitors are told not to drink the water from the faucet. This reinforced an old memorandum instructing employees and workers not to drink water from the faucet in Clark which was leaked to the media many years ago.
Both the US and Philippine governments junked court suits asking for damages on the health of people. One was filed separately in Clark and Subic courts in 2000 and were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, immunity from suits by the Philippine government and for technicality. The latest one which was filed by a US NGO with local residents seeking for a Preliminary Assessment or Phase I Investigation invoking the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund law to compel US DoD to determine the damage it caused in the Philippines. The case was dismissed twice in the US District Court and in the Federal Appeals Court for lack of jurisdiction, having plaintiff that are non-US citizens, and for non-applicability of liability to bases that were already closed.
General Plans and direction of the Philippine Bases Clean-up Campaign
The founding of People's Task force for Bases Clean-up (PTFBCU)in 1994 as the pioneer and leading organization for the Philippine Bases Clean-up Campaign brought the issue to the national arena. Through the dedicated work of its leaders and members, the campaign has been going on continuously for the last 11 years. The mission of the organization is to campaign for bases clean-up, compensation for the human and environmental damages of US military toxics and immediate humanitarian assistance.
The PTFBCU is a service institution primarily focused on advocacy work for the clean-up of U.S. military toxics and maintains an active supportive role on the campaign of some local NGOs and POs on industrial pollutants. It has proven its worth as a strong and effective force in getting information as well as in making both the U.S. and the Philippine governments take up the issue albeit reluctantly. It was able to pressure the Philippine government into recognizing publicly the serious environmental and health problems in the former US military bases. As a result of inquiries and investigations facilitated by the organization, a Senate Committee report recommended that the Executive Branch of the Government actively pursues U.S. responsibility in negotiations and in the event that it (U.S.) does not agree, the Philippine government should seek redress in the International Court of Justice. Throughout the first decade of the campaign, the US military toxics was a highly celebrated campaign in the Philippine media. It was a creative campaign at its height featuring the human face of the toxic legacy. It culminated in the formation of the Philippine Task Force on US Military Facilities composed of major agencies pertinent agencies led by the DFA and DENR. Though that task force proved to be ineffective and was not provided with budget, it was tantamount to an open admission by the Philippine government of the existing problems that was for a long time denied and downplayed by them.
Significantly, PTFBCU contributed to the discourse on US bases clean up by organizing the First International forum on Bases Clean-up in Manila, Philippines, 1996 and co-organized The International Grassroots Summit on Military Base Clean-up, Washington, D.C., 1999.
The many years of consistent organizing work of PTFBCU in the affected areas in Clark and Subic provided it with the opportunity to deepen its study on the effects of US military toxics on the residents ad the immediate environs of the bases and in the adjacent communities most particularly of the 35,000 families who were evacuated in CABCOM, a former motorpool of the US airforce. Despite the perennial lack of resources, it was able to sponsor a health survey, was able to continuously monitor and document the health of the people and was even able to challenge the government to conduct its own health monitoring and to commission environmental studies.
This intense involvement at the grassroots level led the PTFBCU to identify the appropriate strategy and program of action in Clark and Subic by prioritizing the organizing of CABCOM evacuees and the former base workers in Subic Naval Base specifically, those from the Ship Repair Facility (SRF) of 8,000 workers who were exposed to asbestos and other toxics in the course of their work.
The local people were organized by PTFBCU into two provincial organizations of victims in Clark and Subic, the YAKAP-Subic and SAUP-TWV-Clark to lead the campaign on the basis that they are the direct victims of contamination. They are being assisted by PTFBCU as their partner organization in sustaining recruitment and organizing of their own ranks as victims, while forging alliance with individuals, organizations, professionals, selected progressive government officials, the church sector, women and specially the youth sector. PTFBCU provides information, national and international updating, formal training and mobilizing for actions in issues that link up the environmental problems to peace. The SAUP and YAKAP have their own core of leaders in the affected communities and in the provincial level.
In 2001, PTFBCU, YAKAP, and SAUP mutually agreed to form the Alliance for Bases Clean-up - International as a global alliance knowing from experience that the campaign by a few progressive organizations and Filipino nationalists to get the U.S. to bear responsibility is not enough. The most important lesson derived from the long history of struggle against the bases is that the people should stand up and empower themselves for they can never expect the government to stand strongly in opposition to U.S. interest. Today, ABC and PTFBCU have a total membership of 3,000 families in Clark and Subic.
ABC seeks to establish partnership and gather membership of different institutions, people's organization, NGOs and peoples from different nations hosting U.S military bases who share the same problems. They are calling on humanitarian and environmental organizations to join together for the purpose of international campaign by putting international social pressure through mass actions and whenever possible actions in the legal mechanisms under the purview of the United Nations as a relatively neutral agency that can make a declaration similar to Secretary Geneal Koffi Annan's declaration of the illegality of the war in Iraq.
The ABC–International has succeeded to file a formal appeal in before United Nations Commission on Human Rights with the submission of papers and documents, and intervention in the regular sessions by the Dominicans Justice and Peace in the UN during its regular sessions in 2004 and 2005. The organization in behalf of the victims recommended the assignment of a Special Rapporteur to investigate the problem and provision of immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims.
The UN appeal is based on the arguments that the US violated the human rights of the Filipino people. The UN appeal declared that the US government's denial of responsibility seriously disregards Principle l of the Stockholm Declaration which established a foundation linking human rights and environmental protection declaring that "Man has fundamental rights to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that provides a life of dignity and well-being of people." Moreover, the appeal noted that the US violated international law regarding the protection of human health and safety, e.g., UN World Charter for Nature, Principle 21 of the Stockholm declaration, Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration, the Convention on Environmental Impact in a Transboundary Context, the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 24, Section I of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.
The campaign also obtained the sympathy of Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline of Monaco who wrote a letter to US President Bush seeking the clean-up of the former bases and visited the areas of contamination in Clark and Subic and the affected children. This highlighted the issue in the Philippines and more importantly Europe and other parts of the world through the international media.
In response to the immediate needs of the victims, we have installed the following services as part of our programs in a process that will veer away from dependency but will help in the empowerment of the victims:
- Health assistance program – gathering/solicitation
of support from local and international donors abroad for the identification of the illnesses associated with US military toxics specially the children and mitigation of the health problems through medical check-up and provision of medicines, vitamins and food supplies. Since 1999, the PTFBCU in launching its Lingap Clark and Subic program has facilitated assistance for more than 500 victims.
- Legal assistance – Facilitating court actions against U.S asbestos
companies with an ongoing litigation in District Court of Guam with the victims being forced by circumstance to pursue this action in seeking immediate remedy and response for former base workers in order to help prolong their lives and secure the immediate needs of their families in the course of global campaign for bases clean up. Such course of action noted there are precedent cases that have been successful in getting compensation in US courts by Americans as well as Filipinos.
While initiating action against US companies, it will be noted that the ABC-International ever since has been in opposition to the strategy of filing of cases in the US Courts against the US Department of Defense in the belief that this will only spell bitter defeat and demoralization among ranks of victims and advocates. Indeed, no court established by the US specially in its own home front would rule in favor of the conquered and impoverished host nations. This has been also tested correct in the decisions on the two Philippine cases, namely the case against the US DoD and the NEPA coalition of Japan.
In terms of strategies, the PTFBCU and ABC-International put a lot of premium into local and international policy advocacy and lobbying and grassroots participation. Such entail popularizing, launching mass education and trainings on the issues to elevate the awareness of the Filipino people for them to be empowered and take active part in the campaign.
From the lessons of the Filipino people's past struggles against the U.S. bases and Marcos dictatorship and lessons from other peoples' struggles that have been successful worldwide, the PTFBCU and ABC-International believe that the combination of local initiatives with the strong pressure coming from international cooperation among NGOs and POs campaigning for bases clean-up would be a significant factor in bringing about a lasting solution to this problem. This can be achieved further in this international symposium sponsored and organized by our colleagues from Green Korea, National Campaign for the Eradication of Crimes in Korea and the Korean Institute for a Sustainable Society.
Environmental damage from military toxics is a reality that cannot be ignored by legal alibi for denying responsibility. Violating the people's right to a healthy environment and human rights are moral and long-term concerns that cannot be surrendered simply due to lack of resources and political will. The U.S. and Philippine governments may just wish us to forget the people affected by the toxic legacy of the former US military bases but international conferences such as this and people-to-people solidarity and cooperation remain as beacons of hope for environmental protection, human rights, and global peace.
By the People's Task Force for Bases Clean-up and ABC-International
International Symposium on Environmental and Human
Rights Violations caused by US Military Bases
Seoul, South Korea, September 8-10, 2005.
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