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Residents of Subic Garrison Town Worry About Future With PM-Philippines-US Bases, Bjt

September 16, 1991

OLONGAPO, Philippines (AP) _ Businesses were closed and bars were nearly empty today while Olongapo’s residents pondered their future and that of the U.S. Navy’s nearby Subic Bay base after the Senate scuttled a new lease.

Most of the 300,000 people in this city 50 miles west of Manila rely on Subic directly or indirectly for their livelihood. Many of them were in the capital to campaign for a continued American presence.

The Senate voted 12-11 today to reject a new, 10-year lease to replace the one that expired today. President Corazon Aquino said she would call a referendum to ask the people to allow the Americans to stay, but Olongapo’s residents now face months of uncertainty.

″I see bad times in Olongapo once the base is gone,″ said Vivian Balagtas, a 20-year-old housewife.

″Everyone here is dependent one way of another on the U.S. base. I came here from Davao when I was only 17 looking for a better future. With what is going on, things will certainly not get any better,″ she said.

Without the base, ″Olongapo will be reduced to insignificance,″ said Romeo Cayabyab, a radio announcer. He plans to move to nearby Pangasinan province to work for another radio station and work on his 2 1/2 -acre farm.

Olongapo is one of the most pro-American cities in the Philippines. Mayor Richard Gordon, the 45-year-old son of an American, has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to muster support for the agreement and to launch the referendum.

Gordon helped organize last week’s pro-bases rally in Manila, which Mrs. Aquino said was an example of the 1986 ″people power revolution″ that toppled Ferdinand Marcos and propelled her into the presidency.

Ironically, Gordon was a leading Marcos supporter in 1986.

″The senators just voted to kill us here,″ said Teresa Romualdez, 49, a carpenter’s wife. ″They don’t understand us here because they are not from Olongapo.″

Lily Bunag, 23, a college dropout turned go-go dancer, said she hated the senators who voted against the lease. ″From now on, we’ll be living one day at the time, for if we keep thinking on the long term, we’ll just become more desperate,″ she said.

The city’s economy rests on the garish bars and free-wheeling prostitution dens. They make Olongapo one of the most popular liberty cities in the Pacific for American sailors and Marines aboard warships that call at Subic.

Young women from all over the Philippines have flocked for decades to Olongapo in hope of finding an American to marry or earning enough money for their impoverished families back home.

Bar owners often require dancers and bargirls to accompany servicemen to ″short time″ hotels, which rent rooms by the hour, for payment of a small ″bar fine,″ usually about $15.

The large number of street children with Caucasian or Negro features attest to the social costs of being host to the base.

Maribel Pangan, 19, said she quit her job as a go-go dancer so her jealous American boyfriend, who has transferred to the United States, would not find out she was dating other service members.

″I’ll have to stick to him because I’ll have no more chance to find another American once the base has gone,″ she said.

Richard San Miguel, 25, works at the base and has been sending his wife to college with his earnings.

A pullout ″would mean my wife will have to drop out of college,″ he said. ″We’ll have to stop thinking about education and start thinking about where to get food.″

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