CLARK FREEPORT – US Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whose bill led to Pres. Obama’s signing a law putting the Clark Veterans Cemetery here under federal management and funding, has informed US expatriates here that burials at the cemetery has resumed after the Philippine government suspended it recently.
Lt. Guy Hilbero, executive officer of the 26th US Cavalry and Philippine Scouts Memorial Regiment based here, said Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, received recently a confirmation from the State Department that the Philippine government ended the suspension.
The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), which has jurisdiction over this former US Air Force base, earlier suspended new burials at the Clark cemetery amid protests mostly from retired US military men who have stayed on and raised families here after the US military abandoned Clark in 1991.
Hilbero said that “following reports that burials at the cemetery had been suspended, Ayotte wrote to Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia, Jr. requesting his help to end the burial suspension.”
“The ambassador responded the next day promising that his government would work to address the issue,” Hilbero noted. He said that the State Department later confirmed to Ayotte that burial suspension was lifted” and that a few days later, the Philippine government also officially confirmed this to Ayotte herself.
Amid threat of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991, the US military abandoned Clark, leaving the Clark cemetery covered in ash. Last year, Ayotte introduced bipartisan legislation to restore Clark cemetery by tasking the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to restore, operate, and maintain it “to honor the courageous Americans buried there.”
The bill was signed into law by Pres. Obama last year. This paved the way for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Philippine governments to allow the ABMC to fund and manage the Clark cemetery.
The United States and the Philippines enjoy a close and important relationship, and I am deeply thankful that the government there responded so quickly to my concerns.
The burial suspension created unnecessary hardships for families of veterans grieving the loss of their loved ones, and I am so pleased that burials have resumed,” said Ayotte in her message to the US veterans here.
She also said “I look forward to continuing to work with the Philippine government and the State Department to ensure that procedures are put in place at Clark Veterans Cemetery to ensure that families of veterans do not confront unnecessary bureaucratic hardships and delays in the future.”
Clark Veterans Cemetery is the final resting place in the Philippines for more than 8,300 United States service members and their dependents. Most of the buried remains belong to those who had served the US military before World War II.