Myrla Baldonado, Organizing Director of the Bayanihan Foundation shares her personal thoughts about her recent visit to Clark and Subic, US former bases in the Philippines:
In January 2011, Dale Asis and I visited the area of the former Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base now Special Economic Zones and major tourist destination. This meant passing quickly thru four provinces of Central Luzon namely, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales. We travelled past Crow Valley to the Red Beach in Zambales, which were once both live bomb target sites of the U.S. military. I felt my mood changed as we entered the valley that reminded me of the unfinished task of bases clean up. I closed my eyes briefly and the images of the victims and the long hard struggle to achieve environmental justice popped up.
I worked for two decades as the founding Director of the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up before I became the Organizing Director of Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide. I relentlessly advocated for the victims of toxic contamination and for the environmental clean up of both bases. During that time, we successfully unraveled and lobbied for studies that confirmed serious environmental and health problems in these areas. We also provided medical help to over a thousand victims of contamination. Countless media and a couple of filmmakers both local and foreign came up with documentaries highlighting the problem and the consistent refusal of the responsible party to fulfill its legal and moral obligation of cleaning up the toxic wastes left behind.
We’ve met with the members of Saup (Help), an organization of families of Pinatubo victims who lived in an evacuation center inside Clark called CABCOM which we later found out was a former motor pool of the US Air Force that was contaminated with mercury and arsenic. Approximately 350,000 people went thru that evacuation center and were exposed to contamination. Anecdotal evidence and health studies confirmed effects of contamination from prenatal birth, disabilities, neurological disorder of unusual proportion and the presence of heavy metals in the blood of residents. In Subic, we’ve met with the members of Yakap (Embrace) an organization of former US Naval Base workers and their families who were exposed to the toxics and hazardous chemicals such as asbestos in the course of their work in the US naval shipyard. All of those we’ve met confirmed their commitment to continue working on the campaign for bases clean up and acceptance of partnership with the Bayanihan Foundation.
For the first time, I met the residents of a former target range called Red Beach of the US Navy in Zambales Province, right across Subic Naval Base. Many of their neighbors like in Crow Valley and Green Beach died, had their limbs maimed, or blinded by the explosions and accidents with unexploded ordnance (UXO) specially unsuspecting children and fishermen. Some parts were cleared recently to give way to a Korean shipbuilding company Hanjin and they shared many reports and sightings of many UXO’s.
In February 2011, as soon as we got back in Chicago, I received the news that I should head quickly to Los Angeles, CA to introduce the film “Vapor Trail (Clark)” at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). Documentary filmmaker John Gianvito produced and directed the film. He initially found out about the contamination issue at Clark and Subic from a news article he read in the Boston Globe. From 2006 till 2008, my organization, the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up provided coördination and technical support for Mr. Gianvito for three summers.
As he was finishing the film, he flew me to Boston to help with the editing and that’s when I realized that I became the center of the film. My life story in the film tells how I matured politically. I realized how oppressed we were as a people and how we lived like squatters in our own land from the experience of living with scavengers, prostituted women and urban poor dwellers.
Being able to continue working on this unfinished task for the Philippine environment and the health of the Filipino people affected by the toxic contamination is one of the many rewards of being with Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide. Obviously, Dale Asis, the founding director also saw the reward of making this one of the foundation’s development projects.
I am glad to find out, too, that Alexander Lacson, author of the popular book “Twelve Little Things Every Filipino Can Do” also considers the bases clean-up campaign as his “unfinished business”. Last January 22, 2011, Alexander offered a congratulatory toast at the cocktails after the successful US – Diaspora Partnership Workshop at Adamson University in Manila, Philippines.
Indeed, our recent visit to Clark and Subic gave me the renewed strength to continue working in the US for the homeland no matter how lonely it could get to be so far away from home.