CLARK FREEPORT- At the Clark Veterans Cemetery in this former US military base, the living’s crusade for the dead is alive and will likely come to a $5-million fruition.
That’s good news for All Saints’ Day amid expectations that an agreement will be signed by yearend between the Philippine and US governments on the law signed by US Pres. Obama last Jan. 11, allowing the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to take over maintenance of the cemetery.
This, according to Dennis Wright, founder of the Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration Association (CVCRA).
This means an initial $5 million from the US government to upgrade the 20-acre cemetery where lie the remains of 8,600 veterans of World War I and other US wars before World War II. “When the Americans abandoned its air force base at Clark in 1991, there was no provision on the cemetery so it was left in the hands of volunteers and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2485 who remained in Angeles City,” Wright noted.
Three years ago, Wright, who was once stationed in the Philippines as an officer of the US Navy and now heads the Peregrine firm developing a “global city” in this freeport, initiated a move urging the US federal government, through the ABMC, to take responsibility over the cemetery.
ABMC also maintains and provides funds for the American cemeteries in Manila and Cabanatuan City, he noted.
“Those buried at the Clark cemetery deserve to be honored by the US government. And they include scores of Filipinos who had served in the Philippine Scouts in American wars,” he stressed.
Guy Hilbero, executive officer of the memorial 26th Cavalry of the Philippine Scouts Regiment here, said Wright’s move eventually garnered the support of various groups, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans Association, the Bataan Death March Survivors, among other groups.
Last year, the US Senate Bill No. 2320, known as Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012, as sponsored by New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte was passed. The law was signed by Obama last Jan. 11.
The law provided an initial $5 million fund for the rehabilitation of the Clark cemetery. In a recent letter to the VFW in Angeles, however, Joseph Maxwell Cleland, ABMC secretary, said his commission could not take over the Clark cemetery without detailed agreement between the US and Philippine governments.
Wright said that an agreement has already been ironed out. “The US State Department presented a draft to the Philippine government which introduced some amendments before the draft was sent back to the US,” he said.
He noted that the final agreement was supposed to have been signed by representatives from both countries during the supposed visit of Obama to the Philippines earlier this month, but the visit was cancelled due to the US government shutdown.
“We had expected the agreement to be signed earlier, but there were other international events that had to be addressed (US state department), but I think it will be signed by yearend,” Wright added. A source from the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) said Pres. Aquino will meet with BCDA officials on Nov. 5 on the signing of the agreement on the Clark cemetery.
BCDA president Ariel Casanova will reportedly sign in behalf of the Philippines, although there is no report yet on who would sign for the US government. Wright said that the $5 million fund to be provided by the US government would be adequate to upgrade the cemetery, as he cited the need to remove some eight inches of volcanic debris which partially buried the tombstones in the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.
Wright expressed optimism that the full upgrade of the Clark cemetery would be a big factor in promoting “military tourism” in the Philippines. “Military tourism is one facet that the Philippines still has to exploit fully.
In other countries, places of military historical significance attract significant number of tourists. The Philippines has many such sites, and we cannot include the Clark cemetery,” he said.