As a witness to the turnover of the former US-run Clark Air Base in November 1991, the moment when the US flag was lowered with “Taps” reverberating in the background was an admixture of fear and sadness. No new basing rights allowed the US government to continue its presence in Clark which they lorded over for nearly a century.
Five months before the turnover of the US military base, Mount Pinatubo volcano spewed fire and brimstones killing more than 800 people in the encompassing communities. At the onset, G.I Joe is no more.
Outside Clark Air Base was a desolate landscape with the business district of Balibago nearly a ghost town while the usually rowdy honky-tonk bars with customer-less bargirls were bracing for hard times ahead.
As the Philippines government decided to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that brought the ‘Balikatan’ joint RP-US military exercises since 1999, it resurrected anew questions of security and balance of power in Southeast Asia where China had been making incursions against its small Asian neighbors.
At the Clark turnover ceremony, former US Ambassador Frank Wisner said the job of national security has not ended with the withdrawal of US forces at Clark because “it recognizes a dangerous world in a new world order.”
After the power vacuum brought about by the departure of the Americans, China began its incursions in the South China Sea. Now, China had a military installation in the area and seemed to control vital shipping lanes in the contested area.
Wisner even encouraged a closer military alliance among the Asean countries. He said there is a need for new security arrangements in the region because of changes in the US forces deployment. The Cold War that defined the RP-US military bases agreement seemed over as Russia closed its military base at Cham Rhan Bay.
Said Wisner: “We hope to hear the sound of Filipinos building their lives, defending their homeland and contributing to this nation’s future.” Clark is now more than a billion pesos investment with more local and foreign investors coming in. The Clark International Airport is also its jewel connecting the volcano-ravaged area to the rest of the world.
For the nth time, the Philippines government relinquished the presence of the US military forces in the country. Whether or not the VFA will undergo review does not matter anymore as both Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump seemed irreconcilable.
Trump said it all: “You know my views are different from other people. I view it as. ‘Thank you very much, we’ll save a lot of money’,” said Trump. “If they (Philippines gov’t) would like to do that, that’s fine.”
Well, 29 years ago our ‘Great White Brother’ already left us. VFA had resurrected the Americans’ presence after eight years. Will the US government allow the imbalance of power in Southeast Asia? Let us wait and see.