KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 3 /July-August-September 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Inheritors of the Earth
The Human Face of U.S. Military Contamination at Clark Air Base, Pampanga, Philippines
Jeffrey John cannot talk and has convulsions. He was born while his family lived in the Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM). During infancy, he had three convulsions, which led to his confinement in hospital. Now, Jeffrey can make sounds, but cannot form words nor eat solid foods. Doctors said that he has "delayed development" and that there may be hope that he can speak if he undergoes therapy. He visits the doctor once a month for checkups. Jeffrey lives with his two brothers, Jerrick and Justin; their mother Jocelyn says all three of them had stomach aches often while living in CABCOM. Despite his handicaps, Jeffrey appears to be a cheerful child who enjoys singing, pretending to play the guitar, and playing with the electric fan.
Jeffrey John Mallari is the 'cover boy' of a new book, published this year in Manila by the People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup for the benefit of the children of Clark and Subic. "Inheritors of the Earth", based on reports by Aimee Suzara, Amy Toledo and Christina Leaño, uncovers the hidden poisons through the story of a people once deluded to live on land with a toxic legacy.
We present here extracts from "Inheritors of the Earth" and urge you to purchase a copy from the Task Force (see ordering details at the end of this article). Proceeds from the book sales will go to Lingap Clark at Subic - a health assistance program for the victims of toxic waste.
Inheritors of the Earth
The Human Face of U.S. Military Contamination at Clark Air Base, Pampanga, Philippines
The continuing tragedy of poisoning and contamination in the former U.S. military bases at Clark and Subic is an active statement of the irresponsible and reckless way in which the United States conducted itself at the height of its military presence and dominance in the Philippines. The heartbreaking stories of babies dying and people suffering from leukemia, mental disorders, weakened immune systems and various learning disabilities within and around the former bases represent an enduring legacy of toxic transgressions whose foremost and vulnerable victims are children.
While the victim communities wait for responsible action from the U.S. as well as their own government, the miasma of poisons left behind by the American military will keep on wreaking the damage.
The damage is not only physical, it is also profound. This chemical trespass stabs into the future when it robs our children of their potential to achieve and live healthy and meaningful lives.
It is unthinkable for a nation to sacrifice the lives of its children and allow them to continue skirting the edge of an abysmal toxic future. When we allow this to happen by our own inaction and by the insensitivity of our own decision makers, we are guilty of betraying not only their future but our future as a nation. After all, our children are all that we have. No one, not even the world's most powerful nation, has the right to steal our children's future. (From the Foreword by Von Hernandez in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
It may be recalled that during President Clinton's visit to the Philippines in 1994, the Philippine Government tried to keep the bases issue out of the agenda. Knowing its depth and importance, NGOs mobilized during the formal talks between the two governments …
In 1996, the People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup (PTFBC) embarked on a health survey and sought the assistance of Canadian epidemiologist Dr. Rosalie Bertell with the support of Genevieve Vaughan a feminist concerned citizen from Austin, Texas, USA who felt responsible for her government's toxic legacy. From then on, PTFBC focused on documenting health cases and identifying individual victims with the end of developing a human face of the issue.
With limited resources, the technical support from American environmental experts assured that science must prevail over suspicions and emotions. Eventually, Filipino American volunteers came not only to document but also thoroughly recorded their encounters with the victims. Thus, this project came about. (From the Introduction by Myrla Baldonado in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
American soldiers first came to Pampanga in search of greener pastures. Finding land suitable for their horses, the U.S. 5th Cavalry set up Fort Stotsenberg in 1901. With the signing of the 1947 Philippines-U.S. Military Bases Agreement, the fort expanded to become Clark Air Base. Originally the size of the island nation of Singapore, the base now encloses a sprawling 130,000 acres.
In its heyday, Clark served as a staging point for strategic airlifts, permitted surveillance of the "choke points" and handled large-scale aircraft deployments from the U.S. in case of emergency. It also maintained a program of air combat readiness, and provided training and upgrading of air crews from the United States, the Philippines and America's allies. As the resident headquarters of the 13th U.S. Air Force Wing, the base was used extensively during the Korean War, directed Air Force operations in Southeast Asia, and served as a logistics transit point during the Vietnam War.
To support its military activities, Clark had 25-million-gallon storage facility for petroleum, oil, and lubricants and 200,000 square feet of ammunition. Clark was also used for bombing exercises, with the Crow Valley Bombing and Gunnery Range, a 42-mile Facility in the neighboring province, located 14 miles from the base proper.
From 1901 until 1991 or ten years short of a century, residents of Pampanga had to adapt to a military presence. For some, having an American base in their backyard was something to be proud of, a place for higher-than-native wages, the latest American fads, the sweetest of American delicacies, and a young girl's chance at American citizenship. Filipinos earn higher wages working for the U.S. military than any other employer in town. Bars, restaurants, gambling dens, prostitution clubs and other leisurely services sprang up for the officers and the enlisted men as well. Some Kapampangans even made a living scavenging and selling American waste products, incognizant that their newfound wares once held either polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos and other deadly chemicals which are otherwise known as Persistent organic pollutants (POPs for brevity).
For others, the American base symbolized the antithesis of opportunity. While these communities were among the first to be saturated with the craze for anything American, many of the most potent opponents of U.S. military presence arose from the feet of Mt. Pinatubo and Clark. Various peoples' organizations and protesters chanted "Go Bases, go bases, Go!" and "Base Militar ng Kano Lansagin" (Tear down the American military base). Students boycotted classes to air their protest against the presence of U.S. bases in the area. Non-government organizations like the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition and the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines sprouted to oust the bases. They denounced wage discrimination against Filipinos, the proliferation of prostitution and drugs, the killing of Filipinos within base limits, the neglect of American children of Filipino mothers and the increased nuclear threat. "There was a growing heavy resistance at that time when we hadn't even heard of toxic waste."
While people were unaware of the environmental contaminants in the base, in the end, nature herself hastened the departure of U.S. troops from Clark.
Mount Pinatubo, a volcano located adjacent to the base, erupted in June 1991. The Aetas [also: Aytas, Ed.], a local indigenous tribe, believed that the volcano spewed fire and ash in its ire at people drilling holes at its foot in search for oil and geothermal energy. In addition to the people's protests, Mt Pinatubo grew madder at how the U.S. military presence corrupted the Filipino culture. The Aetas felt the mountain spoke at a time when its voice was needed most.
As Americans fled the base, residents of communities in Manibaug Porac, sought refuge within Clark's borders. Government set up an evacuation camp at Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM) for more than 20,000 families. About 7,000 families lived in tent houses inside the camp. Necessarily, thousands of evacuee families were forced to share the use of severely inadequate facilities including 203 deep wells and around 200 emergency toilets instantly installed in various places inside the 12-hectare camp. Unfortunately, while government embarked on instant projects to assist victims of the most devastating natural disaster ever, it failed to include the environmental viability of the area in its agenda. Not one government agency bothered to look into the livability rate of CABCOM. Everybody, the Mt. Pinatubo Commission and the Department of Public Works and Highways included, who were tasked to provide temporary shelter for the Mt. Pinatubo victims, focussed only on where, how and most importantly, how much money to channel into resettlement housing for the victims…
Meanwhile, the fate of the other military bases was being discussed in Philippine-U.S. negotiations for a renewal of the bases agreement. On August 21, 1991, this treaty was rejected by the Philippine Senate, a decision that called for the closure of 22 American bases scattered throughout the Philippines. Subsequently, Clark and Subic, the two largest, underwent political and social chaos camouflaged with economic conversion. Blinded by gigantic visions of achieving international fame and huge profits, foreign and Filipino investors instantly grabbed the rarest opportunity of all and collaborated to funnel fresh money into the development of luxury resorts, commercial centers and manufacturing plants inside the base borders. Thus, was the establishment of the Clark and Subic Special Economic Zones for the two largest bases in the country. (From Historical Background, chapter four in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
"The water seemed to have a layer of grease on top," says Rosalina Rabellas. "It had a bad smell and taste. My children often had stomach ache," states Ofelia Escoto who experienced two spontaneous abortions.
Alberto Carlos, 65, who has a lung problem, further explained: "Many children were sick (in CABCOM), even the dogs were sick. Many people experienced severe hair loss and skin diseases"…
In response to the pervasive ill-health and unexplained infantile deaths in communities around the base [about] which the government refused to take swift and decisive action, PTFBC resolved to monitor the same. Through their persistence, world-renowned epidemiologist Dr. Rosalie Bertell and the Canadian Institute for the Concern of Public Health conducted a comprehensive health survey. In February 1996, a team of local nurses, trained by Dr. Bertell, surveyed 761 women in 13 communities surrounding Clark Air Base. They inquired into health problems, household practices, effects of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, economic conditions, social factors and environmental quality.
Overall, the survey showed that communities around the base had conspicuously high rates of female urinary tract infection and nervous system disorders. The highest rate occurring in… the same communities that were earlier identified nearest to landfill sites or located next to known contaminated sites…
Of the 13 communities studied, the Health for All survey revealed that these sites have significantly more ill health cases in addition to CABCOM, the evacuation site of the Mt. Pinatubo victims…
Conclusively, the study identified the following relationships: (1) Poor water quality was associated with all kidney and urinary tract infections; (2) Corrosive drinking water was significantly related to respiratory problems; (3) Water with an unusual taste or smell was related to problems with the nervous system; (4) Dust was associated with kidney problems.
From these findings, Dr. Bertell further concluded that something abnormal exists in the soil, water and air in Clark. After all, normal dust is usually correlated with respiratory ailments and not kidney problems. "Therefore," the study added, "it is clear that this is not normal 'dust'"… She warned, "To do nothing is to invite disaster." Sadly enough, Bertell's work fell upon deaf ears of the Philippines health department. (From Bertell Study: Health for All, chapter six in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
Community leader Armando Rivera says that before resettlement, CABCOM evacuees usually died of old age. Common colds and flu were simply treated at the village health centers. Today, over 88 deaths from cancers of various types, kidney and liver malfunction and acute respiratory diseases have been reported since 1995. And this is just a partial list. He stressed that this is an even bigger problem than the volcano eruption for their community of about 7,000 families.
Their story began in a remote locality at the foot of Mt. Pinatubo called Manibaug, Porac. There, they enjoyed fresh air and harvested fruits and vegetables grown in their own fields. But the volcano eruption forced families to evacuate their idyllic province seeking higher and higher ground. This eventually led them to the evacuation center provided by the government at CABCOM. Little did they know that the site they found had been the motor pool of the U.S. military. The water they would be ingesting and using for the next two or more years was tainted with hazardous substances including oil, grease, lead and mercury…
Those who can afford bought bottled water while the majority just had to live with it. It was only in late 1994 that the government and CDC officials entered the community and announced that the water was unsafe. Better late than never, so they said…
According to the most recent health records, in 1999, about 25 children suffer diseases such as leukemia, central nervous system disorder, congenital heart disease and speech impairments; 8 women have breast cancer and/or other forms of cysts and 19 have suffered reproductive system problems like spontaneous abortions, stillbirths and infantile deaths. Because documentation has been limited, actual number of cases may be significantly higher. These recorded illnesses affirm Dr. Bertell's and other studies that link such health conditions to toxic contamination.
Most of these illnesses can clearly be traced to chemical substances in the water in CABCOM. Avelina Manalo, 55, a laundry woman in CABCOM is probably one who has suffered the worst skin ailment among the evacuees. It all started with simple itchiness and rashes after doing laundry jobs for households. Then she began to feel pain in her upper and lower extremities and noticed that her skin had become hard and scaly. Her brown complexion has turned reddish as if her skin had been stripped off causing her to refrain from going to public places. Today, itchy patches have covered her body, oftentimes in pain. She regrets she could no longer work due to her ailment.
Josie Tongol recalled how she was threatened by the skin disease that hit her son Raymond, 15 … Since 1995, Raymond recalled, he used to play with some friends at the former firing range. Sometimes they even salvaged scraps of ammunition in the area. Raymond's curiosity widened when he noticed that even during summer, the soil inside the firing range looked wet and easy to scoop with bare hands. "Soil in the firing range was different from the soil in other parts of CABCOM. Some kind of grease or oil had practically mixed with the soil which made it easy to form into balls and other shapes. The balls formed out of the soil there hardened fast and we competed in stoning the target fixtures around the area," narrates Raymond.
In July of 1998, however, he noticed a wound on his left arm … Weeks passed and the wound didn't heal. It grew bigger and bigger [and] had to be removed through surgery … Then, after a week, a similar wound appeared on his eyebrow which even grew like a small cauliflower on his face … Then another appeared in his buttocks, then another under his arm and in other parts of his body … The biopsy revealed that Raymond had TB of the skin and underwent medication for six months…
Aliaro, now 6, has chronic asthma, cannot speak and is no bigger than a 3-year-old while Ronalyn, 8, has been diagnosed for a congenital heart ailment…
"They are luckier because they have survived," tearfully narrated Betty Valencia, who has a cyst in the ovary and could not forget her daughter's ordeal in 1995. "For two days, my daughter was throwing up and had diarrhea. The next morning, she died. She was only three years old and was very lovable. But is there anything we can do when we already drank the water and the poisons are now all over our bodies?" (From Cluster Study: Madapdap Resettlement, chapter seven in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
Crizel's ordeal started one early morning of February 1999. [Her parents] noticed that she was weak and pale. They thought she had a simple cold with fits of cough. But then symptoms gave way to sickly pallor and dark spots resembling mosquito bites that began to cover her body. These dark spots grew larger and larger.
In March she underwent a series of tests on her blood and bone marrow. By April, Crizel had been diagnosed with Acute Myelocrytic Leukemia… Low income and lack of resources stack the odds up even higher against Crizel whose family's only regular income is a small store that extends from their house… Fortunately, Lingap Clark was granted a fund assistance…
Crizel was immediately rushed to one of the best hospitals in Manila … The media, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) in particular, helped with announcements of her condition which drew many kind-hearted citizens to the rescue… But remission is rare for patients of AML … It is a battle against time and an invisible killer. But looking at Crizel's bright and hopeful face, one could easily forget…
Many other children are similarly victimized by the toxic contaminants for life. They cannot walk, talk and have grown too small for their ages. Probably, they may not even have the slightest chance to enjoy the right to freedom and bliss that childhood brings, the bright opportunities ahead as Filipino citizens; much less reciprocate and nurture the beauty of love as a child of the universe. (From Children of Clark, Battling an invisible killer: Crizel Jane Valencia Story, chapter nine in "Inheritors of the Earth".)
Crizel Valencia became known to environmental activists as the "'child toxic warrior". She died on 25th February 2000 in a cabin on board the Greenpeace International flagship Rainbow Warrior, which she was touring with her mother and 50 other adults and young toxic waste victims from Pampanga. Despite having had a blood transfusion before setting off for Manila, Crizel insisted upon being part of the delegation. "Sake kung barku (I'll ride the ship)," Crizel told her mother. One of the 6-year-old girl's last drawings was of the Rainbow Warrior, which had arrived 4 days previously on the Philippine leg of the Greenpeace campaign.
Five months after her death, the PDI reported that on Friday, 28th July Philippine President Estrada and US President Clinton agreed on a "framework for bilateral cooperation on environment and public health." The reports were very clear: Mr. Estrada was not able to strike a deal on the cleanup of the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga and the Subic Naval Base in Zambales.
Four days before Estrada left for the USA, the kin of 300 Filipinos (126 dead and 174 seriously ill) filed their demands. They are seeking P52 billion compensation from the Philippine government and $102 billion from the US. The families who lost their children due to contamination vowed not to buckle to inaction. Crizel fought back, in a creative manner, calling attention to the victims' sufferings through her crayons and cards. She inspired hope and courage among the non-affected -ordinary and influential people alike.
Support The Campaign
Copies of "Inheritors of the Earth: The Human Face of the US Military Contamination at Clark Air Base, Pampanga, Philippines" plus 3 cards with Crizel's drawings are on sale from the Task Force for the equivalent of US$10.00 plus postage.
Proceeds from the sales will go to a Health Assistance Program for the victims of toxic waste.
Please place orders with:
People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup (PTFBC),
46 Jersey Street, Project 8, Quezon City PHILIPPINES
Tel/fax: (632) 454-23-47 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The extracts from "Inheritors of the
Earth" are reprinted here with the permission of the
These are true stories based on the personal experiences of the authors and the editor, O'lola Ann Zamora-Olib, during their volunteer work with PTFBC from 1996 to 2000. It is the pure intention of this book to record, inform and reveal the irreversible damage on the lives of the innocent victims of persistent organic pollutants at Clark and convince the authorities that be, as well as those who live with conscience, to take immediate action.
About the Authors: The authors are Filipino-Americans who came to the Philippines to trace their Filipino roots. Along the way, they realized that they cannot continue living conveniently in the U.S. indifferent to the Filipinos' struggle in a toxic dump called Clark. You will also find more information at the Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solutions (FACES) web site at http://www.facessolutions.net/