Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, February 25, 2008

US inaction on Clark, Subic toxic wastes scored

MABALACAT, Pampanga —Members of the US-based Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) have expressed outrage over the American government's continued use of the Philippines as a site for military exercises even as it failed to clean up contaminated areas in its two former bases in the country.

CPT delegates saw what they called "continuing military contamination" as they visited the former Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base on the first week of the Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) in Mindanao, the biggest of 30 or so exercises that resumed in 1999 under the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

Clark in Pampanga and Tarlac, and Subic in Bataan and Zambales have since been converted by the Philippine government into economic free ports after the Philippine Senate ordered the closure of the military facilities in 1991.

"Clearly, US military contamination of the Philippines continues today, in spite of the base closings. We humbly oppose the continued use of the Philippines for the misguided US-led war on terror," the CPT said in a solidarity message at the close of a two-day interaction with toxic waste victims in communities around Clark on Friday.

The visit came a year after Gene Stoltfus, founder of the CPT, stayed around Clark and Subic for a month.

"US President George W. Bush has said that the US military must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. We, Christian peacemakers, believe the Philippines is not a 'dark corner' but a beacon of light, of hope, of love and of peace," it said.

The CPT is involved in programs seeking to reduce violence through peacemaking based on the teachings of the Bible, non-violent direct action and joining local peacemakers. Its members work in Palestine, Colombia, Iraq and indigenous communities around the world.

Dr. Richard Williams, a socio-economist who assisted then Sen. Wigberto Tañada in proposing a base conversion program, said the American government "ought to be required to do a cleanup job before it is allowed to use the bases again."

"It is too bad that the military exercises are allowed. Our government will back off when there's pressure from the people and the eyes of the world are upon it," said Williams, who was involved in the closure and redevelopment of the Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado.

Rev. Steve Ramer said the CPT would help press for a cleanup and demand for a stop to the war games.

"The reason for Clark was maybe Vietnam [War]. The reason for Subic Bay was the Cold War. Those wars for America are over but the killings and violence continue and we are realizing that we need to be responsible and react to that kind of violence as well," he said.

"One of the things that we find that we are doing here is letting people know that the story will not stay silent, the voices of the people will be heard."

In replies to Philippine senators, the US government refused to do environmental remediation that was not in accordance with defunct 1947 Military Bases Agreement.

Myrla Baldonado, executive director of the People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup, said a "huge body of evidence of contamination" was found at Clark and Subic.

The US General Accounting Office (GAO, the investigative arm of the US Congress), US Department of Defense and the Weston International environmental study confirmed that, she said.

The Department of Health confirmed the high levels of lead and arsenic in the blood of several Mt. Pinatubo evacuees who were sheltered at the Clark Air Base Command, a former motor pool of the US Air Force.

The Weston study found at least one pollutant exceeding drinking water standards in 21 of 24 locations in Clark. Twelve of 14 sites had pollutants beyond normal standards.
By Tonette Orejas - Central Luzon Desk

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