In 1991, the United States military closed its overseas bases in the Philippines, leaving in place toxic contamination of the soil and water which now threatens the lives and the environment of the communities surrounding these facilities and the economy of the nation as a whole. The People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup was created in 1994 to respond to the impact these pollutants have on our communities. Our objective is to initiate awareness and political movement in the United States on bases cleanup and the community health needs of the surrounding Filipino communities.
Since 1898, The United States maintained a military presence in the Philippines occupying enormous tracts of land on our central island of Luzon. Clark Airfield for example is only nine square kilometers smaller than the island nation of Singapore. The Subic Bay Naval Base is larger than the San Francisco Bay Area. With the end of the Second World War, the United States began to industrialize these sites, building airfields, ship repair facilities, petroleum tank farms, and other facilities. In addition large tracts of land were separated out for use as firing ranges for live ammunition practice. Each of these activities generates a substantial amount of hazardous wastes.
In 1992 the General Accounting Office identified bases in the Philippines as among the most contaminated of all overseas United States bases. Unfortunately during the closure process the United States military failed to follow its own policy guidance leaving the pollution in place while providing the Philippine government with virtually no documentation on the extent of contamination.
The contamination of the baselands now pose several substantive threats:
The impact of the toxic contamination of the bases was so compelling that CNN produced a report on the subject called "Military Mess" in 1994.
- Without the environmental documentation needed to guide the development of these properties, the Philippine government embarked on a massive redevelopment plan for these sites which are now in use as residential, tourist, and industrial facilities exposing individuals and construction workers to potentially dangerous levels of toxic contamination.
- A refugee center for victims of the Mount Pinatubo eruption, located atop of a former motor pool on the former Clark Air Base is already reporting an alarming increase in still births, miscarriages, rashes and gastric ailments.
- Various illnesses, disabilities, and congenital problems have been monitored at Clark. Dr. Rosalie Bertell's Health for All Survey revealed this November, 1998 that dust and poor water quality are associated with disparate and high levels of health problems in communities closest to the Base.
- Scrap metal scavengers from surrounding communities have been killed and maimed digging up unexploded ordnance from unmarked firing ranges at Clark and Subic.
- American and Filipino experts estimate the cost to clean these facilities in the billions of dollars which will exert a tremendous amount of pressure on our developing economy.
The People's Task Force Bases Cleanup was founded to address this important issue. Since our founding as a project of the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition we have spearheaded our nation's public and political education on the matter. Working with dedicated technical organizations in the United States, we have identified potential hazardous sites, pressured Clark and Subic Development authorities to hire environmental technical consultants to investigate the contamination of the bases, and embarked on a community health study with the International Institute for the Concern for Public Health.
After witnessing government apathy and government sponsored studies with fundamental methodological flaws, the lesson we have learned is this: without the participation of the public and nongovernment organizations nothing will be done ethically, if at all. Because of the costs of cleanup, neither the United States military nor the economic development authorities have an interest in investigating the issue. As a result, the people, particularly our poorest, will continue to suffer.
Because we believe the United States military is evading its responsibility for the public health damage and threat it has left in the former base, we want to raise awareness on the issue in the United States, where citizens can effectively pressure the US government. We would like to present the stories, facts, and images around the Philippines bases cleanup to you, your school, community, or organization. We look forward to hearing from you and collaboration in this struggle for justice and environmental human rights.