Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US bases cleanup pinned on Obama

Officials of a Filipino group that has been pressing the United States since 1992 to clean up the toxic wastes left in its former military bases in Central Luzon said they are hoping that incoming American President Barack Obama would heed this clamor.

“We’re seeing there is more openness and more like us having an access to his office because there are a lot of allies [who] have supported him during his campaign and have gone to his conventions. [They are] Filipino-Americans who have been working on this issue to get the US to clean up,” Myrla Baldonado, executive director of the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup (PTFBC), said here on Monday.

These, as well as Obama’s background as a community organizer in Chicago and his social advocacies, including his receptive staff, make the campaign feasible now, she said.

“Also, I’m seeing more hope in the American people becoming allies especially in the peace movement so they can put pressure on the government for them to act in a way that’s very different from past administrations,” she said.


But the PTFBC, Baldonado said, still expected many obstacles in the campaign to repair the environment of the former Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.

The Philippine government converted these into economic free ports starting 1991 without removing the contaminants left by almost a century of military use by the US.

A possible obstacle is Obama’s appointment of Sen. Hilary Clinton as state secretary, Baldonado said.

“This could be a repeat of the [Bill] Clinton administration where we have eight years of them denying responsibility then as if accepting responsibility, giving promises without doing anything substantial,” Baldonado said.

For another, Obama faces tough times, mainly the responsibility to stem, if not stop, the economic recession.

“It was easier to talk to him then but now he’s president of the… US, and he’s trying to deal with all sorts of people in making decisions, and there are pressures from the military industrial complex,” Baldonado said.

“It might be narrow, or very small, but there is a window of opportunity of reaching out,” she said.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a cleanup within our lifetime or the lifetime of our organizational campaign but we know we’re leaving a legacy of keeping on, struggling, keeping on the pressures, empowering the people so they would continue,” she said.

No RP move

Baldonado said the Republicans, under outgoing US President George W. Bush, had adopted a resolution to clean up Clark and Subic.

Efforts by PTFBC’s partner, the Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solution, ran aground when the Republicans did not pursue the resolution and the Arroyo administration did not make demands, she said.

In 2004, the Dominican Order in the Philippines lobbied at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to press the US to end its “toxic legacy” in the Philippines.

It said the Philippine government “lacked the political will in negotiating with the US for the environmental cleanup and compensation for the victims.”

The Dominicans also told the UNCHR that as of 2004, at least 375 people, 282 of them children, had died around Subic of leukemia. Twelve more cases have been monitored around Clark.

At least 8,000 workers at the former Subic Ship Repair Yard had been exposed to asbestos, radioactivity and other toxic chemicals.

Around 43,000 more Subic workers had handled toxic chemicals and ammunition. Many suffer from various types of cancer, the group said. By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer Central Luzon Desk


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