YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

U.S. Personnel Avoid City Near Clark Air Base Where 3 Were Slain Chasm of Fear Separates Americans, Filipinos

October 30, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

ANGELES CITY, Philippines — The scene at the McDonald's fast-food restaurant here, just outside Clark Air Base, seemed to mock the mood of the city.

"Ronald McDonald Birthday Club," the sign announced. "Halloween Costume Party, Oct. 31, 1987."

But nobody was preparing for the celebration. And, for the first time since the restaurant opened here nearly a decade ago, less than a mile from the largest U.S. military base outside the United States, there were no Americans present.

On Wednesday night, a U.S. Air Force sergeant was shot to death just 20 feet from the entrance to McDonald's. He was one of three Americans killed within 15 minutes of each other less than a mile from the base. The killings generally have been blamed on Communist guerrillas, although so far there is little hard evidence.

It was the first time that Americans had been targeted for attack during the Philippine insurgency, and literally overnight, the killings transformed this once-bustling city of 220,000 into a virtual ghost town.

After decades of peaceful coexistence, a relationship so warm that many American servicemen have married local women, Wednesday's killings have driven a wedge of fear between the 25,600 Americans here and the town that depends upon them for its economic survival.

And Thursday's developments only made matters worse. Callers claiming to be guerrillas telephoned a Western news agency in Manila, claimed responsibility for the killings and threatened to kill seven more Americans.

Although many U.S. and Philippine officials doubted the authenticity of the call, Maj. Gen. Donald Snyder, commander of the 13th Air Force at the base, issued a statement saying: "I do not consider that Americans are out of danger, because there are still threats against our people. We must take these very seriously."

And, on Thursday, Communist hit squads in Manila claimed seven more victims. The dead were five Philippine soldiers, a Philippine policeman and a civilian bystander, all of whom were shot to death. The killings brought to 14 the number slain in the last three days in what Communist Party officials had pledged last month would be an escalation of their 18-year rebellion.

Noting the additional deaths, Gen. Snyder announced that security has been increased sharply at the base, as well as at residential areas outside the base where two-thirds of the U.S. personnel live.

At all three base gates, armed Air Force security men wearing helmets and flak vests stopped every car, even those driven by uniformed U.S. personnel, and examined the identity cards of everyone entering and leaving the base.

Base Restricted

Snyder had announced that no one was to leave the base, except in an emergency. If a serviceman's identity card indicated he lived on the base, he was asked why he was leaving.

"The reason better be damn good or they won't get out," an Air Force officer said.

According to Maj. Thomas Boyd, an Air Force spokesman, the general's order means that "you don't go off base to eat, drink or socialize, and if you live off base you go straight home after work."

The effect of the tightened security on Angeles City was obvious. The bars, restaurants and honky-tonks along the street called Friendship Road--an area once dubbed "Sin City" by Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin--were all empty.

Sweet Charity's bar, which advertises "booze, broads and boogie," appeared abandoned. Residents said the female mud wrestling at the Third Eye Bar had been canceled for the first time that anyone could remember. They said that since the killings, the country-western band at The Barrel had been playing for no one but the barman and waitresses.

"Of course we're scared," Mayor Francisco Nepomoceno told a reporter. "That's why we're doing our best to pacify the situation. It will actually destabilize our entire economy here once these Americans no longer go out and spend money outside."

A State Department study in 1985 showed just how much the city's economy depends on Clark Air Base. In that year, base personnel poured $17.6 million into the city through "everyday spending in markets, shops, clubs and restaurants," the study said. An additional $2 million was spent by U.S. personnel on leave or assigned here temporarily.

'An Ideological War'

"It's just no longer Angeles without the Americans out and around," Mayor Nepomoceno said. "And the real tragedy is that we have a very good people-to-people relationship with the Americans here. But this insurgency is an ideological war, and I guess that's just what these people are after."

U.S. officials sought to justify the travel restrictions and protect the base's good will in a community that has been bombarded with anti-U.S. propaganda.

The Communists and the moderate left are both trying to influence negotiations next year on whether the Philippine government will extend the agreement, which expires in 1991, on Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base about 70 miles west of here.

Los Angeles Times Articles