Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Physical Scars of American Imperialism

Walking around the half-empty and extremely sparely populated (by Filipino standards) Clark Freeport Zone (CFZ) just north of Angeles City, the author was chased down by a pack of street kids asking for cash.  While the behavior itself is nothing out of ordinary here in the Philippines, something struck the author's psyche so much that he kept staring at the kids even as they ran away.  These kids, judging from their looks, very extremely dark...not dark as in dirty and unwashed, but genetically...and looking a little closer, some of the boys even had short curly hairs, not characteristics of Filipinos at all...

Then the author realized where he was.  Once upon a time, the CFZ of today belonged to the US military, who operated Clark Airbase, the largest military base outside of the United States.  On this very land were 15000 American soldiers, proudly occupying the land from 1903 to 1991 (with potential to return in the future, as confrontation between China and Philippines continue to force the Filipino government to grant American military certain concession for protection).  The presence of so many lonely American soldier no doubt created certain demands, which the locals were quick to capitalize.

And the result was seen, in the form of odd-looking kids (in this part of the world) running down the street asking strangers for cash.  Nearly a century of giving birth out of wedlock has created a large population of mixed-blooded bastards, some of whom are already fully grown-up and fully bearing the brunt of discrimination and neglect they undoubtedly face due to their peculiar and some say, embarrassing, backgrounds.  And perhaps even more unfortunately, this "tradition" of interracial offspring has not come to an end with the departure of Americans from Clark Air Base.

A short jeepney ride south of the CFZ lays the bustling pedestrian street known popularly as Fields Avenue.  The narrow street ten minutes walk from one end to the end is crammed with exotic bars and clubs on both sides from end to end.  Every place on the street unequivocally offers, written in Korean, Japanese, and of course, English, across large banners, the "best selection" of dancing girls, masseuses, and whatever else foreign men would potentially fancy.  Even on a morning walk, one can see all the foreign men strolling around, looking very much still tired from last night's fun.

The fact of the matter is, even if the Filipino government wanted the end of American military occupation, neither it, nor the locals in the now notorious City of Angels, wanted American economic occupation to end.  The military base, with its 15000 young lonely men, was a big, constant stream of money, employing the whole city directly or indirectly in some way.  After a century of that, the city thriving off of the Base cannot just suddenly change into another means of survival and continue to thrive.  Thankfully, many Americans and other foreigners returned to take the soldiers' places.

That is not to say that the government did not try...but there is little to boast about.  Outside the "bustling" Fields Ave and its nearby streets propped up by a special kind of "service sector," the local economy looks rather non-existent.  The CFZ itself looks very much a failure, with some American military facilities looking just they are when the American soldiers left, many shuttered and crumbling, having been emptied inside out over the years with relentless efforts of local looters.  The Duty-Free Shopping Zone looks just as empty, with little besides a McDonald's to attract visitors.

What is maybe most ironic about the current state of Angeles City is that, once upon a time, even before the American soldiers called it home for a century, it was the cradle of Filipino independence movement.  Another short jeepney ride south of Fields Ave, one can see the former headquarters of the General Emilio Aguinaldo, who, along with his advisers, was busily preparing for an active defense against the looping American invasion at the turn of the 20th century.  And Angeles was the same city that the Filipino Republic celebrated its 1st birthday, cherishing its independence from foreign meddling.

Not that long later, that very building was taken over by General MacArthur's staff and the wholesale Americanization of the city was underway.  American military and economic imperialism has thoroughly transformed the city, making it nothing more than a service depot for lusty foreigners and its residents servants to the excess, and often inappropriate demands of the rich foreigners.  That spirit of independence embodied by Aguinaldo's army is long gone and not ever to return.  It is the author's hope that Angeles, in this way, is not a typical snapshot of the Philippines in general.


  1. Are you sure the mixed kids weren't the native Filipinos, what some derogatorily label "Negritos"? I've always wanted to see them, as well as the Orang Asli in Indonesia/New Guinea...

  2. ummm, how would you define "native" in this case?

  3. "Native" in the sense of being the initial immigrants to the region, before the physically-distinguishable second or third wave. Check out the natives of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India for a similar situation.

  4. heh thankfully most of the natives in these Pacific islands are already demographically insignificant in that they dont count (look at everywhere from Taiwan to Philippines to Australia to New Zealand to Hawaii)