POSTSCRIPT / January 14, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Dump garbage on Clark: Whose crazy idea is this?

WE vehemently denounce the reported alternative plan to use sprawling Clark Field near where we live in Mabalacat, Pampanga, as dumpsite for the tons of stinking garbage piling up in Metro Manila.

Why should Clark and the innocent communities around the former US base be made to suffer for the criminal neglect of Commissioner Robert Aventajado and MMDA chairman Jojo Binay to attend to the garbage problem?

More than a year ago, these two officials tasked with solving the garbage problem knew that the San Mateo landfill dump would close on Dec. 31, 2000. What did they do? Nothing.

Aventajado now presumes to run for senator with the Erap post-impeachment ticket, while Binay is set to go back to his more lucrative job as Makati mayor. If you’re a voter assailed by the garbage strewn around you, you know what to do with the duo.

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THE old dump on Clark when it was still the home base of the US 13th Air Force was near the Sacobia River that flows from Mabalacat toward Bamban, Tarlac, some two meandering kilometers away to the northeast.

As kids, we would sometimes go swimming in Bamban totally unaware at the time that the water may have been polluted by trash and sewage. Yuck! Nearby residents would also do their weekend laundry in the clear, seemingly clean water.

Much later we ventured upriver beyond a bend called “Maskup” (meaning “narrow”) dangerously close to the base perimeter unmindful of the security guards notorious for shooting down intruders. There we saw the dump.

So that was where the “baluga” (our local term for the aeta or ita) were getting the discards and second-hand items they were selling in town.

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A GRATEFUL Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who held the baluga in high esteem, promised them perpetual access to Clark and its social services, plus an exclusive right to retrieve whatever they find useful in the base dump.

baluga clutching an M-1 Garand rifle as tall as he was may not be much of a soldier in West Point manuals, but the imperious general was repaying their loyalty, bravery and their usefulness during the Pacific war as guides, couriers and ammo bearers.

We never checked if this commitment to the baluga was ever signed and sealed, but we noticed that it was honored without question on base. Unlike the rest of humanity, the natives walked in and out of Clark without having to show any identification.

* * *

AS part of the MacArthur deal, the baluga also enjoyed lifetime free treatment and hospitalization in Clark’s medical center that was commodious and modern enough to service US military personnel and dependents in the entire region.

During the Vietnam War in the 50s, hundreds of wounded soldiers were being airlifted daily to Clark for treatment. Some of them were later flown elsewhere for more specialized attention.

Aside from these flying hospitals, we kids would watch bombers and fighter jets with gaping holes, some of the turbojet types with some propellers broken or with smoke hissing out, limping to Clark in a noisy descent that became a nuisance to the community.

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THE Clark dump was a veritable goldmine, considering how wasteful those Americans were, especially since they enjoyed tax-free military privileges. They threw away almost anything the moment it expired, conked out or went out of fashion.

Usable items thrown with the garbage were retrieved by the baluga and sold to Chinese-owned junk shops that cleaned, fixed and resold them. Even out-of-towners would drive over to buy these useful discards.

The unlettered baluga, alas, never made much money from their scavenging. It was the Chinese middlemen exploiting them who cashed in on the native’s exclusive right to the Clark dump.

* * *

ANOTHER source of money was the slop or the leavings from the mess and the kitchen that was taken out in big drums. Slop was rich, ready-made feed for hogs. It was so rich that one could still dilute it with water to extend it. Ready buyers were mostly piggery owners.

One racket was the dumping into the slop of silver, canned goods and other valuable items sealed in plastic bags. When the drums were taken out, the pilfered items would then be scooped out.

To clinch deals with the baluga, the junk shop owners acting as “capitalista” would advance money to them to make sure that they sold the junk only to them.

These were the same capitalists who corrupted some of the baluga into hiding restricted items with the slop or garbage to be taken out in old six-by-six trucks and weapons carriers.

* * *

MANY baluga, who were denizens of the Zambales mountains before they were lured down by “civilization,” also served as instructors of GIs learning jungle survival. The barefoot professors were experts in jungle lore, including the spotting of edible and medicinal roots and plants.

If you visit Clark, you will still see some baluga peddling bows and arrows, baskets and farm crops. Their wares may not be of top quality, but if you can afford it, we suggest you to buy if only to help them.

If I’m not mistaken, there are also baluga in the Subic Free Port showing off their jungle skills to visitors. Subic, another former US base, is at the southern tip of the Zambales range, home of the baluga.

* * *

THERE have not been many intermarriages, so until now you still see the baluga to be short, dark and kinky-haired. One noticeable change is their having discarded their g-strings in favor of regular clothes.

Some of them had been converted to Christianity. We once chanced on several of them sporting the surname Magsaysay. Why so? Like Chinese taking on the family name of their padrinos, these negritos had adopted the name of their favorite president from their native Zambales.

They have stopped filing their teeth to make them sharp and pointed. The older ones who used to hut deer and baboy-damo (wild pigs) preferred pointed teeth like those of carnivorous wild animals around them.

* * *

BALUGAS may look like they are of a hardy stock, but lack of hygiene and the essentials of balanced diet, public health and the wonders of modern medicine has contributed to the dwindling of their tribe.

They have been generally neglected, but unlike their Muslim counterparts in the South, they do not complain — a fact that makes their plight even more pitiful.

We’re not sure if the present administration of Clark Field still honors MacArthur’s solemn promise to them that the facility is ever open to them and that the base authorities would look after them for always.

* * *

IMPEACHMENT: Back to the impeachment trial at the Senate, the most-absorbing TV fare to hit local television this decade.

We denounce the shabby, insulting treatment given our colleague Emeterio Perez of the Tribune when he testified days ago that he was in the office of then SEC chairman Perfecto Yasay when the latter received one of those high-pressure calls of President Estrada last November.

Lacking the delicacy expected of somebody in such an exalted office, Sen. Ramon Revilla asked if Emi was paid by Yasay for writing about the call!

* * *

IF Revilla is in the habit of extorting payment for doing what he has to do or for doing nothing on official time, he should not presume that journalists are as obsessed as he is with money.

Having worked with Emi, we know him to be a professional who is hard-working and honest. He leads a simple life. Unlike Revilla who seems to be as harassed for money as his President, Emi does not need to scrounge around for dirty money.

The court should not invite witnesses to help the senators uncover the truth only to insult them on the witness stand. Revilla the ageing movie actor may not understand the niceties of being a senator and a judge, but that’s not an excuse for his boorish behavior.

The least Revilla should do is withdraw his remarks from the record and publicly apologize.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: To us, the plural form of “senator-judge” is “senator-judges,” and that’s how I have always spelled it. If in recent Postscripts you saw “senators-judges” to refer to two or more of them, please blame the misspelling on some virus lurking in our system. I’ve noticed that the same “senators-judges” has been cropping up also in the columns of my distinguished neighbors, so I guess the virus has spread.

We take this occasion to plead again to our readers not to send us email with attachments. These just clog the system and spread viruses. Sometimes it takes a bulky attachment 15 minutes to download. It’s a wasteful exercise because, as we keep saying, we do not open attachments. We delete them on sight.

If you’re one of the few now using the new Pentium 4 (400 mhz bus speed), please tell us how it is. We’re itching to know. We think its price tag of more than $1,000 is just too much, but we want your opinion.

You don’t have to buy Netscape 6, the latest version. You can now download a free copy. If you’re a Eudora fan, you can also download its latest version 5. Don’t worry about your files or your address book being wiped out. They will still be intact after the download.

If your old anti-virus software is now virtually useless in detecting and cleaning out new-generation viruses, you don’t have to buy the new version. You simply download an update if you have Internet connection.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 14, 2001)

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