Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 162. Mount Pinatubo and glimpses of Filipino history

I had planned to spend all day at Mount Pinatubo, which had a big eruption in 1991. Unfortunately the volcano is within the boundaries of a huge military operations area, and it is off limits to all but organized tour groups. I was a bit disappointed, and instead took a driving trip around the mountain massif. I was surprised at what little evidence is left of the effects of the eruption, or of the air-fall tuffs that reportedly blanketed the region. To blame is the heavy rainfall and fast growing vegetation, which together have either washed away or covered the 1991 deposits.

Finally, while driving around the old Clark US Air Force base, I found a ghost town of military housing that was heavily damaged by the eruption. Many roofs had collapsed, so the town was simply abandoned to the ravages of time and vegetation. Pretty eerie.

While at the base I found a small museum, which gave me an interesting glimpse into 20th century Filipino history. At the end of the Spanish-American war, the US “convinced” the Filipinos to accept a commonwealth arrangement, which included arrangements for the US to have a permanent military presence in the Philippines. To start with the US established a small fort, but sometime in the 1930’s it was expanded into an enormous air force base that reserved 100,000 hectares (about 200,000 acres) for its own use. Clark Air Force base was where the Americans surrendered to the Japanese in the early stages of World War 2, where MacArthur returned to as the tide turned on the Japanese, and where Marcos escaped to when his dictatorship was overthrown in the mid 1980’s. And then the eruption of Mount Pinatubo happened in 1991, most of the base personnel was evacuated, and when things quieted down and personnel was expected to return the Filipino congress decided they had had enough of the American occupation of their territory. It was all done through diplomatic channels, and in a very civil way, but as the US tried to negotiate another 25 years of occupation 12 of the 23 Filipino senators put their foot down and rejected the “deal”. I find it interesting that the 1991 eruption had the side effect of ending nearly a century of military occupation.

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