On September 16, 2011, the Bayanihan Foundation partnered with the Alliance for Bases Clean Up and presented a workshop on the victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and toxic wastes left behind by the former US military installations in the Philippines. September 16, 2011 marked the 20th year anniversary when the Philippine government refused to renew the lease of the US-Philippines military bases agreement that led to the withdrawal of US troops from the Philippines.
Twenty years later, the US has not cleaned up the unexploded ordnance (UXO) and toxic wastes left behind. In fact, the US government continues to deny responsibility. So the Bayanihan Foundation and its partners are appealing for fairness and justice on this issue and will conduct a public awareness and outreach campaign on this almost forgotten issue.
Myrla Baldonado, Organizing Director, feels very passionate about this issue. Myrla is also the President of the Alliance for Bases Clean Up. She shares her reflections and comments about the recent workshop:
“Is it still possible? It’s like a fantasy that the US will take responsibility for us!” I heard these remarks from an Amerasian during an earlier workshop that the Bayanihan Foundation co-sponsored last July 4, 2011 in Angeles City, Philippines for Filipino Amerasians, children left behind by their fathers who were US military personnel. The young Amerasian was responding to a larger question posed to the group if people in the US are still interested to advocate and include Amerasians in a future bill that could provide US citizenship for Filipino Amerasians. Filipinos were excluded from earlier laws that provided US citizenship for Amerasians from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
On September 16, 2011, the Bayanihan Foundation sponsored a workshop on the bases clean-up issue. The Pilipino Worker’s Center (PWC), the Alliance for Bases Clean Up and the Philippine American Group for the Environment (PAGE) cosponsored and helped plan the event held at the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles’ historic Filipinotown. Around 50 participants, many of them Filipino immigrants, listened to a presentation and watched a video of the interviews of unexploded ordnance (UXO) victims; James Castillo edited the film.
During that workshop, many expressed similar thoughts, “Is it still possible? It’s like a fantasy that the US will take responsibility for us!”
A question and answer period followed. There was a deafening silence until Lolit Lledo of the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) attempted to relate the issue to the participants’ present lives as immigrants in America.
A connection sparked when Aqui Soriano Versoza, Executive Director of PWC, a Filipino American said, “Yes, these are stories that are far from your realities now. However, do you like how the (US) government treated us like garbage that they left behind in the Philippines? Why don’t we speak up for our rights as a nation and as a people? Look at the Mexican government, it speaks up for its people for immigration reform. How come immigrant petitions from Filipinos take longer than most immigrant groups? That’s because we fail to speak up and fight for our rights.” A vibrant discussion followed which concluded with many of the participants affirming the need for the US government to clean the toxic wastes left behind at the former US military bases in Clark and Subic. One of them approached me saying that he believes this issue is also similar to the fight for equity of the Filipino veterans of World War II; they are also left unrecognized by the US government after all these years.
So the next time I travel back to Clark and Subic in the Philippines, I have a solid answer if someone asks me about the status of the campaign. This time I have a powerful story to tell and that I found a glimmer of hope. Soon we will be a force to reckon with as we join hands with Filipino Americans and all supporters who will support us as we seek justice and fairness. Whether they’re toxic waste victims or Filipino Amerasians or Filipino veterans of World War II, they all deserve to be heard; they all deserve fairness and justice.”