Thirty years ago in Clark

The two presidents of the government agencies, Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and Clark Development Corporation (CDC), Vince Dizon and Noel Manankil now taking charge of the largest state owned estate surely have a dim recollection of what was Clark some thirty years ago. The two are yet in the their fourties.

However those old enough, now in their senior years, and not suffering from Alzheimers definitely still have good memory when it was still Clark Air Force Base, the largest military installation outside of continental America and home to the 13th US Air Force.

As a throwback, access to the base was so restrictive. Privileged local people were issued the so-called Commander’s Pass. This was a very much coveted identification card that will give you access to the base, and will even allow you to dine at the Officers Club and other mess halls which normally were reserved for the soldiers and their dependents. And one can lined up at the Kelly Cafteria for a quick hot meal. Very affordable even for a Filipino wage earner.

Normally issued the passes were elected officials of Angeles and Mabalacat and selected towns, including some governors and congressmen. No hoi poloi.

Media persons like us gained access but with escorts at all times and can only visit designated areas. No interviews allowed, but queries should all be directed to their information office. I still remember a certain Major Red Viguerie and a certain Lt. Maclaughlin, a butt of my jokes in my column at the defunct The Voice, a local weekly.

Aside from the privilege by having the commander’s pass to dine in their restaurants, there was an entitlement of making a purchase for few oranges, apples and chocolates. Filipinos were feeling good just to have some few of these goodies. We love then and proud to have US servicemen and their families as our neighbors. We were separated by a fence and patrolling military police (MPs) with their ferocious dogs. ( Remember Nora Aunor’s line in the 1976 movie Minsa’y Isang Gamo Gamo, ‘My brother is not a pig.’

At the height of the Vietnam war in the late sixties, the airbase became the single biggest employer in the Central Luzon region. It employed around 21,000 Filipino workers. And off-base communities never had it so good. They experienced business activites never experienced before.

It ushered in the establishments of PX stores in Angeles and Mabalacat. They sell nothing but post exchanges items coming out of Clark and some from Subic Naval Base in Olongapo passing through the blackmarket channel.

Dependents of American servicemen, and even some GI himself sold their PX items with hefty profit to the blackmarket.

The blackmarket profits may have contributed to the mushrooming of the clubs and other small joints and added to the growth of the now internationally known Fields Avenue. Prostitution was unabated and resulted to social hygiene problems. Now a thing of the past.

There’s now a makeover of the former US Air Force base. Roads are being expanded. The former golf course was turned into a world class one. The former Chambers Hall now became Quest Hotel. There are more restaurants, hotels and casinos in the 4,400 hectares of the fenced area of the Freeport. Those former barracks were constructed into town houses and now mostly occupied by Korean expats. And only in less than thirty years.

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