As the U.S. administration hasn’t taken responsibility for the situation and the site has not been cleaned up so far, civil society organisations urge the Philippine government to hold the U.S. military accountable for the pollution and subsequent effects on public health. Affected communities have repeatedly blamed their government for not applying pressure on the U.S., and failing to address civil society concerns.
Former U.S. military bases at Clark and Subic Bay leaked toxic waste into the surrounding environment. The environmental effects on water quality, aquatic life and human health led to civil society pressure on both the Philippine government and U.S. government to clean up the site. However, the lack of contractual obligation for the U.S. to clean up the site has meant that no comprehensive clean-up project has been initiated.
In 1993, a WHO report found that toxic dumping, accidental spills, and environmentally destructive practices had made numerous sites at Clark Airbase and military base at Subic Bay unsafe and detrimental to human health (Asis, 2011). Toxic waste included lead, aviation fuel, underground storage tank leaks, sewerage contamination, unexploded materials and radioactive materials (Kemmiya, 1997). The responsibility of the clean-up was disputed. The military bases agreement did not impose any well-defined environmental responsibility upon the U.S. to clean up after the withdrawal (Asis, 2011).
Various NGOs and environmental watchdog organizations, such as the People's Task Force on Bases Clean-up, have placed pressure on the Philippine government to hold the U.S. accountable and responsible for the cleanup but no success has been observed. The sites remain contaminated and a danger to ecological and human health.
U.S. involvement in the clean-up
After the closure of the base in 1992, the WHO conducted an evaluation report on the site in 1993 (Kemmiya, 1997). In 1994, the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up started a public outreach and advocacy campaign at the local and national levels seeking to hold the U.S. responsible for the removal of toxic wastes in their former military installations (Asis, 2011).
In 2000, the U.S. donated $5 million under a global climate change program that was intended to assist the Philippines to foster a cleaner and more productive environment. The U.S. signed a joint statement with the Philippine government committing to shared information and assistance to enhance institutional and technical capabilities of the country to address public health and environmental concerns caused by toxic waste (Bayanihan Foundation, 2011).
However, this has remained the extent of the U.S.’s participation in addressing public grievances over the toxic waste. Following this agreement the Philippine government formed a task force to address the issue but this quickly dissolved with a change in presidency. More action has come from civil society groups.
In 2000, the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up evolved into the Alliance for Bases Clean Up (ABC) - a broader campaign that includes national and international alliances (Asis, 2011). In 2000, the ABC filed a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, which was rejected from the court in 2003 (Tritten, 2010). The ABC has pursued a variety of local, national, and international campaigns in conjunction with other NGOs, such at the Bayanihan Foundation, to expose the liability of the U.S. Individual cases have also been filed against the government of the Philippines for compensation for their health complications and death of their family members (Regencia, 2014).
The failure of the Philippine government to address civil society concerns has been attributed to the lack of motivation by the government to confront the U.S. Although the Philippine government even considered taking the issue to the International Court of Justice none of these steps were undertaken. The Philippines rely on the U.S. to support them in defending their claims to the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal - two territorial disputes with China, which has been suggested to be the trade off for accepting toxic waste dumping (Regencia, 2014).
To resolve this conflict, the central government of the Philippines will need to take greater responsibility to address the environmental problems in the area and place pressure on the U.S. to contribute.