Tigers follow a vehicle carrying visitors at the Zoobic Safari, a former US military ammunition storage facility turned into a wildlife sanctuary at Subic Bay in northwestern Philippines on Jan. 18, 2009. The sprawling US naval base has been converted into a flourishing commercial shipyard, industrial, nature and recreation park after the Philippine Senate terminated a treaty in 1991 ending the US military presence in the Philippines. (Photo: AFP)
Memories of the past can come to us with feelings of foreboding, frustration and a desire for justice. So it was for me when huge US warships came steaming into Subic Bay last April and May this year after many years of absence.
I was reminded of the previous 50 years when the US Navy occupied the huge Subic Bay naval base and Olongapo City became a US recreation sex land where women and child exploitation was rampant. Sex bars and brothels proliferated.
Women and children were sold every day and night for a handful of dollars to drunken, sex-starved US sailors. The human trafficking of children for sexual abuse was authenticated and verified by US naval investigators.
HIV-AIDS, venereal diseases and drug trafficking were commonplace. Back then, it was thought of as a thriving business and the US servicemen were warmly welcomed with young women and Mardi Gras street festivals and October Fests.
The sex city as it was then known had dozens of city-approved licensed sex bars and clubs and hotels filled with bikini-clad young girls gyrating around poles and all available for sex. The bars were operated by many retired US sailors and others, some even owned by politicians with city government permits. Nothing was held back. Even foreign pedophiles were accommodated.
Those days are long gone and a new generation of high-minded political leadership is striving to establish and maintain high moral standards in Olongapo City. Likewise the former naval base, now converted and managed by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), is headed by Jonathan Dy, the new chairman and administrator who will not allow brothels or sex hotels inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
"They turned their followers against me and accused me of damaging the 'good name' of Olongapo City"
The new generation of citizens and their good leaders are vigilant that the bad old days should never return under their watch. Should we forget the evils of the past they will visit us again.
The expose I made in 1982 of 18 children, some as young as nine years old, confined in the Olongapo City hospital with venereal disease after having been sexually abused by US servicemen and local officials, caused international revulsion and an outcry.
The local authorities were so angry at my media expose in We Forum documenting the widespread child sexual abuse under the name of Marcelo B. Soriano that they turned their followers against me and accused me of damaging the “good name” of Olongapo City. I was denounced as a persona non grata to be deported.
In those days, child sexual abuse was seldom acknowledged, admitted, or rarely acted against. The victims suffered in silence all their lives. They had no recompense, no healing, and no justice because there was no strong law.
The age of consent for sexual intercourse was 12 years of age until it was changed in 2022. If there was a complaint, the child was said to have consented to the abuse. How could a helpless, impoverished 12-year-old stand up against an adult abuser?
I won the deportation case and continued to speak out for child rights through my writings, television interviews and presentations at international conferences. The city authorities retaliated by threatening to close the Preda children’s home. I said that it was better they close the US military bases and convert them into economic zones.
"Domestic sexual abuse, human trafficking, and online sexual abuse of children for money are now widespread"
That became my campaign and hundreds of thousands of good Filipinos of moral courage and values joined me and made it their own campaign against exploitation of women and children.
Eventually, on Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate led by its president, Jovito Salonga, and eleven other senators voted 12-11 against renewing the lease agreement with the US. That was the end, the bases closed one year later and the last US Navy ship left Subic Bay in November 1992.
At the start of my campaign against the US bases, I wrote that “life after the bases” would be better and I proposed a six-point conversion plan. All that I proposed then is a reality today and a dream come true, I am happy to say. I believed that the good Filipinos could do it and they did. Clark and Subic are thriving economic zones today.
The renewed military partnership between the US and the Philippines has brought back the servicemen, the women and children, and the bad memories. We must strive to ensure that this time it will not be a rerun of the terrible nightmare.
The impact of 50 years of US military bases has left a deep moral injury on the Filipino people. The very wrong saying: “What is good for the US serviceman is good for the Filipino,” damaged the moral fabric and Christian beliefs of Filipinos.
As a result, the sexual exploitation of young women and even children, domestic sexual abuse, human trafficking, and online sexual abuse of children for money are now widespread. It all stems from the “Poison Seed” of the US bases and the sex industry that was allowed to thrive.
Let us avoid repeating the same old mistake all over again.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.