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Filipinos See Hard Times Ahead With Closure Of Clark Base With AM-Philippines-Bases, Bjt

July 17, 1991

ANGELES, Philippines (AP) _ Residents of this city outside Clark Air Base are bracing for hard times after Wednesday’s announcement that the Americans will leave the installation next year.

U.S. officials said damage from last month’s eruptions of Mount Pinatubo, 10 miles to the west, made it impossible to continue operations at Clark, one of America’s oldest and largest overseas bases.

″The withdrawal of the Americans from Clark is a bigger explosion than Mount Pinatubo,″ businessman Max Sangil said. ″With Pinatubo, we can pick up the debris, but we cannot immediately supplant the economic vacuum caused by a withdrawal.″

Sangil, who also serves on the city council, estimated that the departure of the Americans, combined with damage from the volcano, will cost this city about half its annual earnings.

Lost income from off-base housing rentals alone will cost the local economy $1.5 million monthly, according to Mario Lazatin, vice president of the Angeles City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

″We don’t want the Americans to go,″ said Lalaine Chavez, 26, who works at the Big Apple Club, a bar that caters to Americans. ″We have no other place to go and they are our only hope for survival.″

″Life will be colorless in Angeles without the Americans,″ said Elen Basicampo, 30, a bar girl at the Genesis Disco outside Clark’s main gate. ″But we will survive with Australians and other foreigners as clients.″

Negotiators announced Wednesday that the United States will give up Clark by Sept. 16, 1992, but will retain the Subic Bay naval station, subject to approval by the Philippine Senate.

The announcement could not have come at a worse time for the more than 300,000 people who live in Angeles and other towns around the sprawling, 130,000-acre air base.

The eruptions have brought economic activity here to a virtual standstill. Base employees were among the few people who were still receiving regular paychecks, even though most operations at Clark have ground to a halt.

Officials estimate about 27,000 Filipinos worked at the base, either directly employed by the Americans or by Philippine concessionaires with service contracts. Still, some regional officials sought to minimize the impact, perhaps because they have no choice but to persevere, with or without the Americans.

Angeles Mayor Antonio Abad Santos said the drop in income would be about 30 percent, including 20 percent already lost since Mount Pinatubo’s eruptions.

But, he added, the U.S. decision only means that local officials will have to work harder to lure foreign investors to a commercial complex being built in Angeles. He said most of the businesses being planned are not dependent on Clark. He added that income lost by the U.S. withdrawal could easily be offset by new investments.

That, however, seems unlikely, at least in the short term. Last year, the government drew up elaborate plans for converting Clark into an international airport and attracting new investment if the Americans withdrew.

Those plans have been thrown into a tailspin since the volcano began erupting early last month after 600 years of dormancy.

Lazatin, of the Angeles chamber of commerce, said the airport plan would be unworkable as long as the volcano continues erupting, spewing ash that makes aviation hazardous.

On Wednesday, Manila’s international and domestic airports suspended operations because ash was falling on the capital, 60 miles south of the volcano.

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