U.S. Exit From Clark Worse Than Pinatubo Eruption, Councilman Says
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The U.S. abandonment of volcano-damaged Clark Air Base will deal a harder blow to the local economy than the eruption of Mount Pinatubo itself, a city councilman said today.
New ash from the volcano blanketed Clark today as its remaining 2,500 American troops packed equipment and supplies in trucks for shipment back to the United States.
Some Filipinos regretted the departure of the Americans, who are leaving what had been one of the largest overseas U.S. military installations. But others were angry that President Corazon Aquino did not hold out for more money from Washington before agreeing to a new U.S. lease on the Subic Bay naval base.
Other Filipinos want the Americans out altogether. About 6,000 people today carried effigies of Mrs. Aquino and chief U.S. negotiator Richard Armitage on a paper mache tank cloaked in black mourning cloth.
The pact needs two-thirds approval in the 23-seat Senate, but some leaders said they were displeased with the amount the U.S. agreed to pay for Subic Bay and predicted a tough fight for ratification.
″I don’t think anyone in the Senate is happy about the results,″ said Sen. Ernesto Maceda, chairman of the Senate defense committee.
The developments came a day after U.S. and Filipino negotiators agreed to keep Subic in operation for 10 more years but close Clark, which was heavily damaged by last month’s eruptions of nearby Mount Pinatubo.
The closing of Clark is expected to have a devastating impact on the economy of Pampanga province, where Clark is located, 50 miles north of Manila. ″The withdrawal of the Americans from Clark is a bigger explosion than Mount Pinatubo,″ said Max Sangil, a councilman in the city of Angeles, near Clark.
″With Pinatubo, we can pick up the debris, but we cannot immediately supplant the economic vacuum caused by a withdrawal,″ Sangil said.
Sangil, a businessman, estimated that the departure of the Americans, combined with damage from the volcano, will cost the city about half its annual earnings.
Lost income from off-base housing rentals alone will cost the local economy $1.5 million monthly, said Mario Lazatin, vice president of the Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mayor Antonio Abab Santos also predicted lost taxes would cost the city at least $875,000, about 25 percent of its annual income.
Mrs. Aquino today urged the Senate to approve the agreement reached Wednesday, under which Washington would give back Clark by Sept. 16, 1992, but keep the Subic Bay base for 10 more years.
The Americans agreed to pay $360 million in the first year and $203 million annually after that.
″Admittedly, the monetary considerations are much less that we would have expected under normal circumstances,″ Mrs. Aquino said. ″I feel, however, that the amounts committed are fair in the light of the present situation.″
Subic, 25 miles from the volcano, also suffered damage from the eruptions.
Senate President Jovito Salonga said it would be difficult to muster enough votes for approval.
Most surveys show a majority of Filipinos support keeping the bases, but an influential minority in the media, academia and Mrs. Aquino’s government oppose them as a vestige of American colonial rule.
Sen. Mamintal Tamano, among a few senators who supported keeping the bases, said he wanted the pact to set a specific pullout date for U.S. forces when the new lease expires.
″I want to know and my children want to know when the Americans will leave the Philippines,″ he said.
″The new agreement must not be signed because it goes against our national sovereignty,″ said the left-twing Anti-Bases Coalition in a statement today. ″It tramples upon our very dignity as a people.″