Before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, I freely admit I have been to Angeles in the past and I enjoyed the place for what it was then and is now. I believe we must always have places like Angeles, they serve a purpose that human nature creates and I won’t be so naïve as to deny it.
But times and people change and I find myself quite disillusioned with the whole sordid sewer of a place that is really just a very small section of an otherwise vibrant and wonderful Filipino city. So with that understanding between us (writer and reader), let us progress. Angeles City sprung up to serve the needs of the US military. Back in 1902 when the US Cavalry set up a remount station and cavalry camp there the local barangay was some distance from the camp gates. Gradually the place grew as those bars and brothels that sprung up outside the camp gates met with the spreading tentacles of Angeles City proper.
The hey day of Angeles would have had to have been in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s during the Vietnam War. The expats who have retired here who spent time in the USAF stationed at Clark still hold the attitude that they own the town and the people. Or at least many I have met do. I can understand that sentiment as the USAF poured up to a million dollars a week into the town, more sometimes.
The airmen had the money and lust, the local girls had the looks and the need. Perfect symbiotic relationship in anyone’s book. Clark had the highest divorce rate of any military base according to one source. He explained it was no wonder when Mrs Obese Ohio ’74 spent her days hiding in the house because the locals stared at her and hubby was off in the bars chasing sweet young Filipina’s all night long.
I spoke to one man who was one of the team that investigated the backgrounds of women engaged to servicemen. He said it was more of a surprise when they found out she wasn’t out of a bar or had been selling her services one way or another for some time. Most of the Filipinas were working girls, how else would they meet their future husbands? He said he would love to follow up on some of the cases he had back then and see how many were still together, how many were divorced and so on. He felt that there would be a higher percentage of couples still married than the national average. He also felt if the marriage broke down after more than five years you really couldn’t pin it on the girls’ previous employment.
June 15 1991 was the day Mount Pinatubo speeded up the inevitable. With the nationalistic bent of many in the country; many who gained nothing from the US bases as they were but might if they were open to local development, it was a fairly foregone conclusion the Yanks would have to go home. I have asked dozens of Filipino’s and I have yet to find one who has benefited from the USAF not being at Clark. I have yet to find a single Filipino who doesn’t want them back! Obviously I am asking the wrong people. I need to get out and ask the rich minority who own businesses in the Clark Special Economic Zone that replaced the base.
Unlike Subic Bay, where far sighted Richard Gordon organised the local middle class to protect the greatest asset their town (Olongapo) possessed, when the USAF left Clark it was in a bit of a hurry. People were assured their homes would be protected and their belongings safely packed and sent on to them but many I have spoken to claim locals simply walked on base and looted every home they could enter. They never saw their personal effects again.
It is close to 20 years since all of that happened yet I can remember it as if it were just last week. One thing is certain, Angeles City is more than just Fields Avenue in Balibago. It is a thriving city with hospitals, universities and a heck of a lot going for it beyond the red light strip bordering Clark Special Economic Zone. Get away from the entertainment area and explore the city and surrounding province and you will find a lot more to do than just hang out in bars and drink beer.