I present a compelling essay about the need to clean up the toxic wastes left behind by the former US bases in Clark and Subic, Philippines. Leading socio-economist Dr. Richard Williams wrote the following essay. Dr. Williams is the founder and past president of Social and Economic Analysis Corporation, where he has conducted and supervised extensive research on the impacts of military spending on the local economic and social scene, including a study of alternate futures for the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado.
Dr. Williams’ numerous publications include his most recent book, The Cooperative Solution: Toward a Just Economy, published by University Press of America, 2011. He has traveled around the world studying alternative economic models for the elimination of poverty and increased local participation in economic and social welfare. Dr. Williams has also spoken about the need to clean up the toxic wastes left behind by the former US bases in the Philippines.
LET’S CLEAN UP AFTER OURSELVES IN THE PHILIPPINES
“When I was in kindergarten I learned that if I created a mess, I was obligated to clean it up! Whether or not there is a clear agreement in the unfair treaties with the Philippines that the US military was to clean up after itself, it seems self-evident that there is a moral—if not a legal—obligation to at least assist the Filipino people.” Dr. Richard Williams
LET’S CLEAN UP AFTER OURSELVES IN THE PHILIPPINES
Since 1898 the US has dominated the lives of the Philippine people, as a source of new raw materials and as a source of a market for its manufactured goods. In 1904 the US established the Subic Bay Naval Facility. This military base occupying a protected and deep natural bay somewhat larger than San Francisco Bay area covering 16,452 acres. Strategically at the crossroads of Asia and the Pacific—between the Indian and Pacific Oceans–it quickly became a key staging area for the US naval traffic and the center of the US Seventh Fleet, having the capacity to project US naval power all over the world.
In 1945 Clark Air Base, at that time the largest US military base in the world was established. It was in the center of a large and fertile agricultural plain on the island of Luzon. The area of the air base was enough higher than the surrounding agricultural areas that all waste products tended to roll down onto family farms.
Early in the Second World War a thoroughly one-sided and unfair agreement was imposed upon the Philippine people. There was little provision for cleaning up the bases and no limit to the strength of military power to be hosted by the Philippines. The agreement gave the US a 99-year rent-free contract to be used in any way the US military determined. The Philippine people had no choice but to enter into this unfair agreement and to maintain it well after being devastated during the war. A dominating US military presence was thus guaranteed and the destinies of the two countries intertwined.
From the 1950, the Cold War with the Soviet Union increased a sense of urgency, right or wrong, for the US to deepen its military presence in Asia, especially in the Philippines. The US therefore depended heavily upon Subic and Clark for its international military operations, and the pollution and health problems continued to mount at an even higher rate (Bloom, 1994; Isip, 1997; Mercado,2001).
Nature interrupted on June 12, 1991, when the nearby volcano, Pinatubo, erupted and forced immediate evacuation of both Subic and Clark, along with all the surrounding agricultural areas. The whole area was inundated by several feet of silt. Later that year the Philippine Senate refused to renew the agreement with the US military bases. That decision ended an almost century-long and largely unjust presence of the US on Philippine soil. In answer to the ailing economy the Philippine government began redeveloping all the affected areas, forming them into “special economic zones.” Put in place were a new international airport, modern industrial parks and tourist attractions.
At the same time the population was starting to suffer severe health problems from the toxic products at both bases left by the US. This failure to clean up, despite full knowledge of the environmental contamination that it had caused, left the Philippine people with still more suffering caused by the US occupation prior to the bases being turned over to the Philippine government (Mercado, 2001).
When I was in kindergarten I learned that if I created a mess, I was obligated to clean it up! Whether or not there is a clear agreement in the unfair treaties with the Philippines that the US military was to clean up after itself, it seems self-evident that there is a moral—if not a legal—obligation to at least assist the Filipino people. In the light of the US’s steady loss of its former high regard among our best friends in the world, it seems incumbent on us—for our own self-respect if nothing else—to begin repairing these relations.
Let us at least clean up after our largest bases in the Philippines, Subic and Clark. Do it now and save the far higher costs in the future, avoid further damage to our relations with other nations, reduction of trade, and loss of our own economic security.
Richard C. Williams, Socio-economist
Boulder, CO 80301
Bloom, P & AC, Emmanuel, G, Shettler, T., An Environmental and Health Impact Report on Known and Potential Contaminated Sites in the Philippines, US Working Group for Philippine Bases Clean-Up, 1994.
Isip, R, “Subic Contamination More Serious than Clark’s” Manila Chronicle, Sept. 28, 1997.
Mercado, JRR, The Responsibility of the US Under International Law for the Legacy of the Toxic Waste at the Former US Bases in the Philippines, LLM Thesis, University of British Columbia, 2001.