Sentimentality, Nationalism, Fear Emerge as Americans Leave Base
May. 16, 1991
CAMP JOHN HAY, Philippines (AP) _ The end is near for this ''little America,'' where Gen. Douglas MacArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower vacationed and Filipinos have long played golf and savored American fare.
On July 1, the United States will turn over the 914-acre camp to the Philippine government and the last 40 airmen will depart - ending an 88-year U.S. presence.
Many Filipinos worry that the government will spoil one of the only clean and well-kept recreation centers in the mountains north of Manila.
Since the 1950s, Filipinos have been allowed to use the facilities, including the 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, softball field and American- style restaurant.
''I'm going to miss the fresh milk, ice cream, steak. The quality of food is so different,'' said Juliet Villegas, special assistant in the Department of Tourism. ''How can we say we want the U.S. bases out when we when we feel sorry now that they are leaving?''
Camp John Hay will be abandoned regardless of the outcome of negotiations under way on the future of Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay naval base.
Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus had demanded the Americans relinquish Camp John Hay and three other small facilities by September. The Americans agreed, but now Filipino officials do not know what to do with the sites.
Camp John Hay has a special place in the hearts of Filipinos and in the history of Philippine-American relations.
President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 established Camp John Hay, named for his secretary of state, as a recreation center in the cool mountain city of Baguio, 130 miles north of Manila.
MacArthur, Eisenhower, Gen. Joseph Stilwell and other famous Americans vacationed at the camp when they were assigned to the Philippines.
On April 30, the facilities were shut down, and the Americans began removing furnishings, restaurant equipment and even the concrete benches that overlook a wooded valley.
The sign at the gate, which used to advertise barbecues and square dances, now reads: ''Sorry, all facilities closed.''
For Filipinos, visiting Camp John Hay was like visiting ''the states.''
''It was always a nice feeling, as kids, going around Baguio always meant going to John Hay,'' Mrs. Villegas said.
She is among several government officials assigned by President Corazon Aquino to find local or foreign investors to run the camp's restaurants and sports facilities after the turnover.
But it is unlikely that plans will be finalized by the time the Americans leave. The government is still drafting a master plan for converting the facility to civilian management and under law cannot take bids from investors until it is complete.
Police say more than 500 squatter families have already camped out on the fringes of John Hay and may encroach on the garrison once the Americans are gone. Several illegal loggers, armed with chainsaws, have already been arrested cutting down the camp's pine forests.
In January, the United States handed back a U.S. Navy communications station in Capas and more than 1,000 vandals swarmed over the site and looted everything from door handles to underground copper cables.
''What happened to the Capas installation vacated by the Americans gives us a fearful foretaste of what's in store for poor old John Hay,'' columnist Alfredo Yuson wrote in The Manila Chronicle.
Because of its conservation program, Camp John Hay is the only area in Baguio which still has natural springs.
Residents fear that if the government cannot curb illegal loggers, the city's water table will be significantly affected.
Officials remain optimistic they will do a better job running Camp John Hay.
''We are ready to take over,'' Mrs. Villegas said. ''Our message is that we Filipinos are confident we can make it. It is a matter of pride and integrity.''