News / Asia

    'Forgotten' Cemetery in Philippines Gets US Recognition

    At Clark Veterans Cemetery, the bright white tombstones in the foreground have just been cleaned under a new project that is being funded through donations.
    At Clark Veterans Cemetery, the bright white tombstones in the foreground have just been cleaned under a new project that is being funded through donations.
    Simone Orendain
    A worn-down U.S. veterans’ cemetery in the Philippines that has been in limbo for nearly two decades once again belongs to the U.S. government. Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law the placement of Clark Veterans Cemetery - just north of Manila - under the American Battle Monuments Commission.
     
    The ground of the Clark Veterans Cemetery is spongy under the brown, crunchy grass.

    Retired Army First Sergeant John Gilbert says this is because of the thick layer of gray lahar and ash that settled after nearby Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991.
     
    First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
    x
    First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
    First Sgt. John Gilbert at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, Feb. 22, 2013. (Photo: VOA/Simone Orendain)
    “As soon as the rainy season ends it just turns to dust,” he explains, adding there's no money for a sprinkler system.  "Yeah, that’s always been a desire…Here’s another one that’s pretty low,” Gilbert adds.
     
    Gilbert points to a mildew-streaked gravestone peeking out of the ground. There are more than 8,600 markers here, many badly worn down, on this eight-hectare property near a major intersection.
     
    Gilbert heads a group of volunteers at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2485 near what used to be Clark U.S. Air Force Base about 100 kilometers north of Manila.  Since 1994, the VFW Post has maintained the cemetery while still holding burials.
     
    “About the only thing we’ve been able to do is keep it presentable," he says. "So we’re excited about the changeover.”
     
    Among rows of marble name plates sunken between mounds of weed-strewn ashy soil, Gilbert, 65, touts the historical artifacts here.  There is a marker for one of the first Filipino Scouts who died in 1900 during the Spanish-American War.  Also a mini marble obelisk that originally stood at Fort McKinley in Manila, pockmarked by World War II artillery shelling, dedicated to the more than 1,000 unknowns buried here.
     
    Nearby Clark Air Force Base and the cemetery were abandoned after the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Soon afterward the Philippines ejected all U.S. military bases. The U.S. pullout left the cemetery in limbo.
     
    Two and a half years ago Dennis Wright, a retired Navy captain, formed a lobby group to try to convince Washington officials to return the cemetery to its federal designation. Similar to the well-known Manila American Cemetery where soldiers killed during World War II are buried, supporters wanted a recognized burial place for decorated veterans who survived the war. 
     
    “They died well after the war and were buried here.  Now think of the dichotomy.  If you died during the war, you’d get to be revered in Manila.  But if you survived the war, you got forgotten here.  It makes no sense,”  he says.
     
    Although many American veterans settled in the Philippines and wish to be buried here, ties with the U.S. military remain a sensitive topic among some in the Philippines.
     
    Congressman Walden Bello and a handful of lawmakers have been calling for an end to the 10-year old Visiting Forces Agreement the country has with the U.S., which is focused on counterterrorism training.  Bello says the Clark Veterans Cemetery should rightfully honor American service people.  But he has consistently pushed for American troops in the country’s restive south to leave.  Plus, Bello points to recent environmental mishaps with the U.S. increasing port calls to the Philippines.
     
    “The more we are likely to witness such incidents and the more we would see a return to the kind of close military relationship with the United States that’s not been healthy historically for the Philippines,” Bello says.
     
    Under the federal designation, the Philippines will host the cemetery free of charge or taxes.  The Clark Development Corporation, which turned the former air base into a commercial hub, sees the new status of the burial ground as a selling point for tourism.
     
    Dennis Wright says the two countries still have to come up with an agreement that will allow the U.S. government to run the armed services cemetery on Philippine land.  He says it could take months or one year before Clark Veterans Cemetery starts to receive the allocated $5 million in federal funding.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora