Volcano Eruptions Stir Anti-Bases Sentiment in Philippines

MANILA -- What Filipinos failed to do in 40 years, erupting Mt. Pinatubo did in a matter of days.

It took a volcano, which had been inactive for more than 600 years, to send the Americans packing out of the largest and most strategic U.S. bases outside the continent. Shortly before it started erupting on June 15, Mt. Pinatubo -- 16 kilometers east of Clark Air Base and 35 kilometers northeast of Subic Naval Base -- forced 20,000 U.S. service personnel and their families out of the country.

The eruptions also gave anti-bases and anti-nuclear activists in the Philippines a stronger voice. With the mammoth American evacuation, anti-nuclear activists raised the alarm of radioactive emissions from nuclear weapons they believe are stored at the bases. The disaster also revived offers from the clandestine National Democratic Front to resume talks with the government toward a political settlement and an end to Asia's oldest insurgency.

In the 1950s, nationalists led by Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo M. Tanada called for the closure of the bases, which at that time sprawled over 180,000 hectares (nearly 500,000 acres) of agricultural land. Opposition heightened during the Vietnam War years when activists protested the use of the bases as staging points for attacks against the Vietnamese.

FOR MOST FILIPINOS, especially those born and bred under colonial U.S. power since the turn of the century, booting out the bases was unthinkable. Pinatubo made the options clearer.

Severely affected by the eruptions are the Central Luzon provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, where strategic Clark Air Base, the 13th Air Force headquarters, and Subic Naval Base are located. Other facilities such as the Crow Valley Gunnery Range were also affected. Damage from the ashfall and mudflows was so extensive that in the first week some 80,000 hectares (nearly 200,000 acres) of farmland in the region had been destroyed.

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