Behind a table of gleaming fish in the Olongapo market, a young child plays in the dirt. He is trying to bounce a muddy, half-deflated ball. The ball takes the shape of the hard clay path and sticks there. The child picks up the ball and tries again. Again it flattens on the ground.
The city of Olongapo, site of Subic Naval Base, faces a similar task--making a flat ball bounce. The recent closure of Subic, one of the Philippines' largest employers and the heart of Olongapo's economy, has economically deflated this city of 220,000. The U.S. pullout from Subic cost the Philippines 42,000 jobs, $117 million in annual wages, $290 million in local expenditures by members of the service and their families, and $600 million in U.S. financial aid.
But these sobering statistics should not detract from the Philippine Senate's courageous decision nearly two years ago to defy former President Corazon Aquino and legislate the closure of the bases. It was, after all, a hopeful act--the expulsion of a 90-year colonial presence. It was the refusal to redefine "bouncing" and to instead seek access to the air pump.
Though this separation was overdue and essential to the Philippines' long-term economic health, it remains an extremely painful process. The sector hardest hit by the closure has been the "entertainment" industry--Olongapo's thousands of prostituted women and their Amerasian children.